Yampatike Executive Director Sonja Macys talks about the nonprofit's move to the Legacy Ranch near U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Yampatike Executive Director Sonja Macys talks about the nonprofit's move to the Legacy Ranch near U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

Yampatika gets a new home

Environmental Learning Center allows group to offer on-site programming

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Yampatika volunteer David Moulton, right, and board member David Howell work on setting up the Education Learning Center at Legacy Ranch.

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The Educational Learning Center will be home to Yampatika's environmental programs.

— They finally have a home.

Yampatika, the nonprofit organization that has provided environmental education programs for youth and adults for 17 years, moved to a dedicated facility Monday at the city-owned Legacy Ranch at U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 131.

The facility, Yampatika's Environmental Learning Center, will allow the group to offer programming on-site, something that wasn't possible at the organization's home in the U.S. Forest Service building on Weiss Drive, said Executive Director Sonja Macys.

"We have great recreational areas here, so it's never been a problem. But we've never had a place where children could connect," she said.

The old ranch house, built in 1917, will serve as the classroom and program area. Its 1930s-era bunkhouse will include an educator's resource library and will offer workspace for teachers and Yampatika naturalists.

Naturalist Michelle Visocky said the Environmental Learning Center is a "place for place-based education to connect children and adults to the place where they live."

"Having the kids experience experimental learning, it's hands-on, it's right in front of them," she said. "It's unforgettable. Those experiences last a lifetime."

Visocky said having a dedicated site - instead of leading daily field trips by bus from the Forest Service building to locations such as downtown, Emerald Mountain or Fish Creek Falls - would make her job easier.

"One of the unique things about this project," Macys said, "there's never been an environmental learning center in Steamboat. There's been a lot of community interest and support for this concept."

A long time coming

Yampatika has long sought a location it could call its own, Macys said.

Legacy Ranch is a 132-acre parcel on the former Yampa Valley Land and Cattle Co. site that was sold off as part of a nearly 4,000-acre transaction in 1999, said Susan Dorsey, executive director of Yampa Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit land conservation organization in Northwest Colorado.

Dorsey said there was a community-led effort to preserve the land as open space.

Newell Grant, principal of Yampa Valley Land and Cattle Co., first announced the land sale in September 1997. The Denver-based Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation nonprofit group, purchased the parcel on behalf of local and state governments, agencies and organizations.

Dorsey said those included the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks and Yampa Valley Land Trust.

The deal closed in May 1999. The city paid $244,000, the county chipped in $144,000 and Great Outdoors Colorado made an unidentified contribution for the city to take ownership of the Legacy Ranch parcel.

Kevin Bennett, then Steamboat Springs City Council president, told the Steamboat Today at the time that the day of the closing, May 13, 1999, would be a significant day in the city's history.

"We'd like to think this is one of the great moments," he said. "Everyone should take a moment and smile about all the great things we've been doing in town. The corner of 131 and 40 is in public hands for perpetuity."

In all, the nearly 4,000-acre Yampa Valley Land and Cattle Co. parcel sold for nearly $11 million. About 1,000 acres were to be public land, with the remaining sold to private interests but including conservation and trail easements.

Macys said the ranch's living quarters, bunkhouse and other out-buildings were renovated in 2006. She said Yampatika approached the city in July 2008 to propose making the site its Environmental Learning Center.

The conservation easement limits uses at Legacy Ranch to agriculture and education, which fits Yampatika's programming perfectly, Macys said.

Macys said a two-year grant totaling $20,000 from the Simmons Foundation, of Houston, and $1,000 and $500 contributions from Yampa Valley Electric Association and The Industrial Company, respectively, made starting the facility possible.

Room to grow

Lindarose Berkley, president of Yampatika's board of directors, said the organization has experienced a number of growing pains throughout the years. When she came on board as a volunteer eight years ago, Berkley said, Yampatika was a small, struggling organization.

She said Yampatika always has envisioned having its own place-based educational facility. Berkley said it gives them the opportunity to offer more programs, and better programs.

"I see all kinds of possibilities on this site," she said. "I think the possibilities are limitless. We have a site. It's here."

Volunteer David Moulton, who hosts Yampatika's paddle with the birds, an activity that combines bird watching and canoeing, spent part of Wednesday helping out at the Environmental Learning Center. He took inventory and cleaned lenses of binoculars, telescopes and cameras. Because Yampatika provides a valuable service, Moultoun said, he wanted to lend a hand.

"It's really exciting to see this facility," he said. "It should make some of the programs come alive and make programs easier to work."

Yampatykes, camps for 5- and 6-year-olds, begin June 29. Macys said 11 children have signed up for the two camps, but there's still space available. She said camps for children ages 5 to 14 will be held each week until Aug. 15.

"We'd love to have more kids," Macys said.

Yampatika always is looking for volunteers and donations, Macys said. It has drop-in volunteer days at 3 p.m. Fridays. Anyone who wants to help out at other times or make a donation should call Macys at 871-9151.

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