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Carbondale students learn about importance of wilderness

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Sopris Sun Staff Report

Students from Roaring Fork High School and Carbondale Community
School were among approximately 150 that attended EcoFlight’s “The Value of
Wilderness” seminar at Aspen High School on Nov. 8. Presenters included Sloan
Shoemaker of Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, and local author and founder
of Huts for Vets, Paul Andersen.

Shoemaker opened the seminar with a summary of the federal
Wilderness Act and pointed out how fortunate those in the Roaring Fork Valley
are to be literally ringed by spectacular wilderness, including Holy Cross,
Collegiate Peaks, Maroon Bells, Ragged and West Elks wilderness. He went on to
describe the importance and challenges of preserving places in nature that are
more valuable in their natural state than what can be extracted from them, be
it timber, minerals, energy or other resources.

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Andersen spoke to the audience about wilderness as an important
therapeutic healing process for U.S. veterans and active-duty service members.

Following Anderson’s presentation, Iraqi war veteran Adam
McCabe of Purple Star Veterans and Families shared the statistic that a U.S.
military veteran dies from suicide every 65 minutes. With the seminar taking
place just before Veterans Day, McCabe stressed the importance of helping
soldiers and their families navigate the trials of homecoming after their
experience in war.

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Among the audience were students from the Outdoor Leadership
Program at Roaring Fork High School. They said they were struck by the amount
of wilderness in Colorado, especially compared with other states and felt
privileged to have such an ease of access to the wilderness.

“I value wilderness because I love taking pictures in the green
forest, smelling the fresh non-polluted air and having somewhere to feel free,”
said one 11th grade student.

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They were especially impacted by some of the statistics shared
by McCabe. “I believe in preserving the wilderness and its benefits for
relieving stress and for healing,” stated a second RFHS student, while another
added, “I value the wilderness because it is the only way to get away from
civilized places and just take the time to enjoy wildlife and nature.”

The seminar was the culmination of EcoFlight’s annual week-long
Flight Across America (FLAA) Student Program, which uses flight and
ground-based education to involve and inform college-age students about current
conservation issues from a broad range of perspectives. With the 50th
anniversary of the Wilderness Act coming up in 2014, the focus of this year’s FLAA
was the “alphabet soup” of designations and protections of public wild lands
and the threats facing wilderness-quality lands in the West.

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Participating in the program and presenting at the seminar were
students from the Colorado Mountain College sustainability program and the
Isaacson School of New Media, and Colorado Mesa University, Colorado
University-Boulder and Arapahoe Community College. The eight students had just
returned from studying protected and threatened areas in Colorado, New Mexico
and Utah, where they met with conservation groups, sportsmen, business and
government officials, the media, schools and Navajo youth along the route.