Yampatika charts new course for education efforts

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Friends of Yampatika will observe a new fork in the trail May 19, when they gather for the nonprofit's seventh annual Wild Edible Feast at the golf clubhouse at Catamount Ranch & Club.

Yampatika is devoted to environmental education in the Yampa Valley, teaching residents and visitors about the natural and cultural resources of the region. Most of that teaching takes place on field trips to streams, meadows and mountains.

The Wild Edible Feast is a staple fundraiser on Yampatika's calendar. And this year's five-course meal prepared by Chef Kyle Mendenhall will be served as its board fine tunes the trail map for the organization. Shari Fryer, vice chairwoman of the board of directors, said Yampatika is entering a new era in which it will rely heavily on fees collected for its nature programs and outdoor adventures to continue to grow.

Several years ago, Yampatika operated a retail store in downtown Steamboat. Receipts helped fund the nature programs. A subsequent move to the U.S. Forest Service headquarters on U.S. Highway 40 south of town resulted in declining sales. Now, Yampatika is adapting.

"Surveys tell us residents of the valley give environmental issues a high priority," Fryer said. "We're going to get back to our core purpose. We're fiscally stable, but we need to find ways to grow and enhance the richness of what we offer."

Stacy Kolegas, who became Yampatika's executive director in late 2005, said that in addition to raising awareness of Northwest Colorado's natural environment, her organization is working to create a sense of place through participation and example. The new business model for Yampatika includes procuring sponsorships for its programs, she added.

Historic Routt County, Tread of Pioneers Museum, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., Vista Verde Guest Ranch and the city of Steamboat Springs are sponsoring nature programs. Individuals such as John and Nancy Merrill and Julie Green are partnering with Yampatika as sponsors.

Yampatika's programs are many and varied. New this year are all-day adventure hikes for two age groups of older children. They will cost $30 for members and $34 for nonmembers.

There are wild river trips accompanied by naturalists on the Colorado and North Platte rivers.

Day-trippers can venture out to search for the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin for $75 or hunt for wild mushrooms for $50. For a fee of $30, night owls can visit the Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden to witness a flurry of bats erupting from the chimney of the ranch. The hour-long walk that follows will illuminate more creatures of the night.

Senior naturalist Karen Vail said although many of the programs have increased substantially this summer, they are still a relative value.

"We offer a two-hour wildflower walk every Friday for $10," Vail said. "I think that's pretty good when you consider you could go to Rocky Mountain National Park and pay $145 for a similar guided hike."

What: Yampatika presents Wild Edible Feast When: May 19, cocktails and silent auction 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. Where: Catamount Ranch & Club golf clubhouse, 33400-A Catamount Drive Cost: $75 per person Call: 871-9151 to register

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