Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail leads a group of eight along the Skyline Trail on Sunday evening. The snow hike tour marked the tail end of the nonprofit's 20th anniversary celebration.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail leads a group of eight along the Skyline Trail on Sunday evening. The snow hike tour marked the tail end of the nonprofit's 20th anniversary celebration.

Yampatika celebrates 20 years on the moonlit trail

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— The moonlight was sparse, and the snowpack along Skyline Trail wasn’t quite deep enough for snow shoes, but Yampatika concluded its 20th anniversary celebration in true outdoors fashion Sunday evening.

Led by naturalist and one of the original Yampatika founders Karen Vail, a group of eight finished off the nonprofit’s 20-year celebration by also kicking off the start of its winter moonlight snowshoe nature tours.

As Vail recalls, Yampatika has grown in a number of ways from its inception two decades ago. Two local forest service members called for a friends group to bring government agencies together to conduct environmental education in the Yampa Valley.

Vail had just finished up her master’s degree in environmental education and jumped right on board. A short time later, Vail became Yampatika president, and 20 years of service later, she has no regrets.

“It’s just been, I think, so important to our community,” Vail said. “There’s not really any other organizations that do exactly what we do. There’s the Sustainability Council, which is awesome at what they do. But we do in-the-field, hands-on, really fact-based education. That’s what we really focus on.”

So on Sunday night as the sun descended passed Emerald Mountain to the west, the group laced up their boots and got two hours of environmental history and education. The full moon made its appearance, creeping through clouds and peaking over Mount Werner and Storm Peak, proving to be just enough to light the trail for the tour.

Along the trail, which provides 360-degree, sprawling views of the Yampa Valley and its surrounding peaks, Vail pointed out local flora and fauna, explained moose, elk and bear habits and delved into the history of the community down below.

“We wanted to do something kind of special before the tourists come,” Vail said. “We wanted to honor our locals who support us so much. Plus we thought it would be fun.”

Drawing local interest is what has kept Yampatika thriving — and changing — for 20 years. Public and volunteer support largely floats its environmental teaching efforts. Government funding has waned off a bit since its debut, but the direction lately has been toward education, especially in local schools.

Grant funding also is huge for implementing necessary programs.

Most of all, Vail just wants to rouse community interest, the same way her eyes opened up at the opportunity when she was fresh out of graduate school. Even if it’s just one person out of the eight Sunday night who decides to dedicate a part of their life to the vision Yampatika set years ago, she’s done her job.

“I look at it this way: If I could get people excited about being out here and they see how gorgeous it is with the beauty of the natural world without 200,000 lights and the noise,” Vail said. “If I can get them excited about it and it becomes a passion for them … I think I’ve made a difference.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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