On Saturday, I co-hosted the East Coast Backyard Collective, on behalf of Conservation Next, with Climbing Resource Advocacy Group Vermont (CRAG-VT), a non-profit that recently got money from Conservation Alliance, Access Fund and others to permanently conserve a popular climbing cliff in Vermont and to protect recreation rights on that land.
Saturday, fifty six volunteers, some climbers, some who had never climbed, some volunteers from other non-profits, carried pick axes, rock bars, shovels, work gloves, food and water into the property, set up a basecamp and got to work. According to Travis Peckham, CRAG-VT's president, "It was CRAG-VT’s largest and most successful trail event to date and the amount of work that was accomplished was astounding! The trail repairs and improvements made were long overdue and the new 300-foot stone staircase up the scree field to the center of the cliff is a work of art that would have inspired the Inca!"
The Backyard Collectives are a part of ConservationNext's online and on-the-ground conservation efforts. As part of the Conservation Alliance, ConservationNext gets outdoor industry employees and enthusiasts out of the office and onto the land that their companies are helping to conserve.
Conservation takes more than just money. Often non-profits working to protect the places we all love to play need on-the-ground get-your-hands-dirty support as much as they need cash. This was my take home lesson on Saturday. The event was a great example of money and manpower coming together for all-around success. CRAG-VT got grants to buy the Upper West Bolton cliff, and then volunteers built a trail, including one section through a rock slide, to make that cliff safely accessible to all (there are amazing views up top, a worthwhile trip even if you think a quick draw is something from an old Western). I personally was inspired by all the people willing to give their time, and clearly saw how important it is to make time in my own busy life not just to help organize, but to move rocks, pound dirt and rake the trails that I love to use. It was a win win situation. I heard over and over how much fun volunteers were having. We asked people to come for three hours and most stayed at least six!
Said Peckham post event, "Once again, I'm reminded that we have a fantastic community here in Vermont and how a few people donating a little time can accomplish a great deal."
Community can exist anywhere. And forming community around conserving outdoor areas that are important to you is easy. There are so many organizations working to protect wild places. Check the Conservation Alliance website for a list of the ones that organization has funded, or keep an eye on local bulletin boards to find out what's going on near you.
So I guess this post is a plea for everyone reading to get involved, either with a ConservationNext Backyard Collective (there will be nine more in 2010 at locations across the country–check conservationnext.com for details in the coming months) or with another volunteer effort in your own community. There is strength in community, and when we band together, we can really get a lot done.