Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Steamboat's 13-year-old nonprofit organization that focuses on natural history education is evolving, but Yampatika is not about to fade into the forest. Not even close.
"A lot of people have come in and said, 'I'm going to miss the nature programs,'" naturalist Karen Vail said. "They think we're closing. But we're going to have even more programs next year. We're going to have more youth programs, too."
The confusion about the future of Yampatika stems from a convergence of factors that changed the organization's focus.
Longtime executive director Deb Fuller is leaving the area to embark on an extended nature tour. And after moving out of the heart of downtown several years ago, Yampatika is de-emphasizing its retail presence at its current location.
Yampatika's offices are in the U.S. Forest Service headquarters on Weiss Drive, just off U.S. Highway 40 on Steamboat's southern city limits.
The "50-percent-off everything sale" in the nature store gives the impression Yampatika is going out of business. It's not.
Fuller was the heart and soul of the retail operation and did all of the buying. She said that since Yampatika moved from its downtown location at Yampa Avenue and 10th Street, the store hasn't had enough foot traffic to make retail viable.
"With the changeover, none of us are as retail-oriented as Deb," Vail said.
Fuller's departure comes as Yampatika continues to pursue grants that would allow it to convert its retail space in the Forest Service lobby into a small natural history museum. It's part of a long-term goal undertaken in September 2001, when the organization, which bills itself as "the natural and cultural connection," invited the public to an open house to unveil a display of mounted birds and animals indigenous to the Yampa Valley.
Yampatika probably is best known for the regularly scheduled naturalist-led tours it offers year-round. There are wildflower hikes, snowshoe tours and overnight llama treks.
Vail said the popular wild horse tour will return next year. New programs will include a hike intended to help participants recognize bird species by their calls. There also will be a new "Tiehack Tour" to Hog Park to explore the era when Scandinavian immigrants cut trees for railroad ties and floated them down the Encampment River.
Throughout the winter, a triumvirate of staffers led by assistant director Stacy Kolegas and including Vail and Heidi Mitzelfeld, will share Fuller's responsibilities. They report to an active board of directors, Vail said. She anticipates the new executive director will need to possess grant-writing and fundraising skills and have a background in business bookkeeping and management.
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