Townsend H. Anderson: Experiential learning for Routt County youths

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— Sometimes, opportunity presents itself in the most unexpected ways.

Historic Routt County had been working with Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus to develop a historic preservation program.

Recruitment was our biggest challenge. We were floundering in the winter. Something needed to change. As much as people enjoyed the courses we were teaching, we were not reaching our young adults. Intuitively, we knew that if we could get young people on site, doing the hands-on work of preservation, we could get them excited. A fortuitous conversation in February with Gretchen Van De Carr, director of our Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, changed the paradigm and set us on a course that will have far-reaching, long-term benefits for agriculture and heritage tourism in Northwest Colorado.

RMYC has had considerable success with its conservation crew programs, maintaining trails, bridges and fences, performing watershed restoration projects, and improving campgrounds and parks on public lands. The learning systems for group and individual discipline, conflict mediation, team building, experiential education and leadership development are impressive hallmarks of RMYC. Why couldn’t we apply this template to historic preservation?

We introduced the concept to Gretchen, she loved the idea, and we immediately went to work putting a program together, hoping we could launch it in summer 2010 yet knowing that time was short to put all the pieces together.

With assistance from the city of Steamboat Springs and a bit of scrambling, we were written into the request for proposals for preservation work on the More Barn (the iconic Steamboat barn of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. marketing fame), including disassembly and documentation of the Yock Family Homestead cabin nearby. This led to an agreement with the city to reconstruct the cabin provided we raised the funds.

The result of our pilot historic preservation corps program stands proudly where once a forlorn homesteader cabin had collapsed and was decomposing into the ground. We will complete the reconstruction next summer.

What we stumbled upon is a model for historic preservation education, youth leadership development and accomplishing historic building preservation projects, all because we were stymied by how to recruit students.

With a mere six weeks of advance publicity, we attracted 19 applicants for six positions.

Already in the pipeline for next summer are the log cabins at the entrance to Stagecoach State Park, the Foidel Canyon schoolhouse and teacherage on the grounds of the Twenty Mile Coal Mine, and the Burroughs Doghouse, rescued from demolition earlier in the summer.

Longer term, HRC and RMYC will partner with the Community Agriculture Alliance, the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Routt County Extension Office to connect with ranch owners who would like assistance with repair and rehabilitation of their historic barns and outbuildings.

We envision one or more historic preservation crews traveling from ranch to ranch, making repairs and extending the life of these many buildings that manifest the cultural heritage of Northwest Colorado.

Within the next 12 to 18 months, we hope to offer college credits to these RMYC program participants, some of whom might be so energized by their experience that they will want to pursue further education and possibly a career in historic preservation.

Historic Preservation can, indeed, connect with youth in Routt County, and partnerships among local organizations do make a difference.

As Bryce Mayo, one of the RMYC crew this summer, said in an article recently published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, “It will be really cool to bring my grandchildren, my children, here and saying I helped preserve a part of (Routt County).”

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