For people who have always wanted to snack on wild plants but were hesitant to take the first bite, Karen Vail has a proposition.
Vail is the senior naturalist with Yampatika, the Steamboat Springs-based natural history organization. Vail also is a botanist. Her knowledge of the native plants of the Yampa Valley is unsurpassed.
Yampatika leaders have a goal to generate enough matching funds to land a $5,000 gift from an anonymous donor. If Yampatika can match the entire $5,000 by Dec. 31, it will have netted $10,000. Failure means the $5,000 goes away.
As a premium to people helping to match the $5,000, Vail is offering personal natural history excursions in the mountains and meadows surrounding Steamboat in the spring. They'll have a chance to identify the season's first wildflowers and even snack on edible plants.
"Not only do we look at wildflowers, but there are some tasty treats at that time of year," Vail said. "We can gather our own lunch."
For people donating $250 to $499, Vail is offering a two-hour tour. Donate $500 or more and Vail will provide a four-hour jaunt.
Springtime is five months away, and for people who don't want to wait, Vail is willing to guide donors on a mission to identify animal tracks in the snow.
"Winter is an open palette for tracking," she said. "Fantastic stories can be discovered in the winter white."
There are other ways to donate toward the fund raising effort.
People who give gift memberships at the holidays and write a check for any amount over the standard membership fee of $30 will see the balance applied to the challenge fund. Yampatika also is encouraging holiday gift givers to consider giving admission to one of Yampatika's special events. They include the Wild Edible Feast on May 18, or a multi-day llama trek into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
Yampatika will begin the New Year with a new event, the History Mystery Snowshoe Race at the Carpenter Ranch on the Yampa River near Hayden. It will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 6. Although it's a race in the snow, the contestant with the best knowledge of natural and cultural history in the area may be the winner.
The race will be followed by a meal from the Steamboat Smokehouse. The entry fee is $50.
Learn more about Yampatika's challenge gift and winter programming by calling 871-9151 or visiting the office at 925 Weiss Drive, in the U.S. Forest Service building.