The folks who work and volunteer for Wildlands Restoration Volunteers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
In fact, they may be covered in dirt and even ash by the time their work is done on any given day.
When government funds are insufficient to improve or restore the outdoor Coloradans love, such as rerouting an unsustainable trail or putting a forest on the path back to its former glory following a wildfire, WRV comes to the rescue.
The nonprofit organization provides an opportunity for people to come together, learn about their natural environment, and take direct action to restore and care for the land.
Sarah Egolf, development coordinator for WRV, says the organization had 4,100 active volunteers between its two offices – in Boulder and Fort Collins – who logged 50,568 hours last year. WRV also works with a variety of youth corps; offers its own leadership training program; provides teambuilding opportunities for groups; and welcomes school children and youth groups for hands-on educational opportunities.
“It’s great to do outdoor projects with groups; we have a lot of fun with that,” says Egolf. “It’s a great way to get to know people in a different way, when you work side-by-side outdoors with them.
"Community building is half of our mission. Besides rebuilding the land, we want people to build relationships, to get to know each other better. Anybody who wants to help is welcome.”
When Ed Self recruited 20 volunteers to plant willows to improve the wetland habitat around Heron Pond at Pella Crossing Open Space near Hygiene in 1999, he likely had no idea that his simple project would grow into an organization vital not only to the Boulder community, but to Fort Collins, as well.
That small core group of volunteers steadily grew to several hundred by 2002 – 430, to be exact, who had logged 6,200 hours –and Self established WRV as a nonprofit organization that year.
“We’ve had just amazing growth,” Egolf says, noting the organization opened its Fort Collins office in 2009.
As the organization has grown, so has the need. Case in point: the growing number of wildfires encompassing hundreds of thousands of acres in the two communities WRV serves.
WRV has worked on the ecological restoration of the land consumed by the Four Mile Canyon Fire in Boulder in 2010 and the High Park Fire near Fort Collins in 2012. WRV’s efforts are critical to prevent erosion that leads to mudslides, which not only affect roads and bridges, but contaminates water supplies.
“At the same time as the community is helping people who have lost their homes, we need to address the immediate threats to infrastructure and municipal water sources,” Egolf says, noting the black sludge that permeated the Poudre River following the High Park Fire. “If there is a mudslide, the cost of treating the water goes up. We can’t drink it like that.”
While the drought is not helping prevent wildfires, the mild weather this winter allowed the organization to extend its season, which usually stretches from March to the end of October, through Dec. 21 last year.
“It was interesting because the heat and the drought made our projects more challenging,” Egolf says. “It was kind of a crazy year; we added 20 restoration events to our schedule just to help after the High Park Fire. We’re definitely hoping for a little more precipitation (this year) to get more of our plants established.”
Yet it’s not just wildfires that are causing damage to Colorado’s environment and ecology, she notes.
The growing population along the Front Range year after year means more and more people and wear-and-tear on the outdoors, Egolf says.
“The sheer numbers of people have an impact over the years, and if no money or resources are directed toward maintaining it, we’ll love it to death,” she says. “It’s not all just normal wear and tear; some of it is really long-term habitat restoration that took decades to be degraded and it’s going to take a long time to heal, as well.”
WRV is staffed with eight full-time and three part-time employees who manage its massive corps of volunteers; it is funded by government agencies, grants from private foundations, corporations and individual donations.
“We really depend on those individual contributions – they help us a lot,” Egolf says, noting WRV operated on a $819,000 budget last year.
She notes Boulder is the ideal community for an organization like WRV not only because of the widespread outdoor activities, but also because people who live here appreciate the environment and are willing to volunteer to take care of it.
“Being in Boulder is a fabulous opportunity,” Egolf says. “It’s just the culture of Boulder – people here really love the outdoors and see its value. We have a large volunteer base and local businesses that see value in what we’re doing.”
WRV opened its Fort Collins after the staff noticed many people driving south to volunteer.
“We realized there was an opportunity to expand our work to the north,” Egolf says. “We’ve grown our base there by more than 1,000 volunteers.
“People just love projects in their back yard; when they use trails and paths, they want to give back and help take care of them.”
WRV prides itself on working in cooperation with the private sector when a project requires heavy equipment operations and in seeing private contractors volunteer with the organization, Egolf says.
“It’s the kind of thing that they love to do, and they can see the benefit of educating the public about the value of the work,” she says, noting that many private contractors reap the benefits of their good deeds by demonstrating their skills and making potential business connections.
The organization also engages the community on behalf of public agencies by educating people about watersheds, the benefits of keeping natural areas free of weeds, the importance of well-designed trails and more, in addition to digging in and restoring the earth, Egolf says.
“We definitely make ourselves available,” she says. “We reach out to agencies, ask about priorities, and they send us information about projects and what’s needed, such as how many volunteers and tools. We have a committee that looks at all the projects and determines what we can do and prioritize.
"Of course, whether we have funding really makes a difference, but we may take on a high priority even if we don’t have funding and we will bust our butts to make sure we get it funded. … In some cases, they have no funding at all, and we’ll write a grant and ask for help.”
For more information about WRV or to volunteer, visit http://www.wlrv.org/ or call (303) 543-1411 in the Boulder area or (970) 493-2075 in Fort Collins/Northern Colorado.
Owner and Founder
RE/MAX of Boulder