Speaker Update: Radical Farmer Randy Ramsley

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Students on our Colorado Plateau Semester course know Randy Ramsley well. He has built a vibrant farm on some very rough land near Hanksville, Utah. Agricultural experts told him it was impossible to grow anything in the poor soils of his property. But over that last decade Randy has carefully built up those soils with cover crops, and now supports a happy herd of goats, flocks of chickens, and a leafy orchard. You can buy excellent goat cheeses, baked goods, and other produce in his Mesa Farm and Market. If you are ever able to visit him, you must do it!

Randy had a rough summer in 2012. His longtime partner passed away, and his work crew left mid-season. He says these hardships nearly “put him in the ground.” But he got through the year with help from friends and a lot of hard work.

Randy is very excited about the prospects for the farm, he says that this year will be “a new octave and a new song,” at the Mesa Farm. There is a great farm crew lined up, and they are thinking hard about projects that the 2013 WRFI crew can help with. Randy is an inspiration to everyone he meets, we at WRFI feel incredibly fortunate to have met him, and we look forward to introducing him and his farm to many more students!

Michaela Brumbaugh: A Testimonial, a Journal Entry, and a Poem

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WRFI loves receiving updates from our alumni!  It’s particularly meaningful to hear about how their courses have impacted their lives once they’re back at home.  Michaela is a University of Arizona student and participated on WRFI’s 2012 “Wild Rockies Summer Semester.”

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When Bethany Swanson first came into my anthropology class, the upper division course that as a freshman I was not supposed to be in, I had no idea she would change my life. A bright and early 8am class, she cracked a huge grin and I wondered how much coffee it took to get her here in front of us, I myself was gripping a thermos full of it. She proceeded to greet us and delve into details of a program that greatly appealed to me. It was called the Wild Rockies Field Institute and all of their courses were conservation themed field classes.

The options that you could choose from for your field course included all of the things I had grown up doing outside of class with my family: kayaking, biking, camping, hiking, etc. I had never dreamed that the activities I dabbled in outside of class could ever mesh with learning in class. Yet here she was, proposing just that, and I knew I had to be a part of it. I spoke to her after her presentation and got myself well on the way to signing up for a two-week restoration ecology course. It was not in the cards for me to go on that trip, with too low of enrollment, instead destiny had it that I go on a two month course; little did I know the impact it would have on my life decisions.

Before my WRFI course experience, I felt that I was still a youth. I felt that my ideals and lifestyle were determined by me but that that was the only way I had power. After my experience I realized that I could affect change in more ways than just through how I live my life. I have shared my readings with my family. I have turned three different households of highly right-wing conservative college students to recycling, in homes where that idea would have been utter nonsense before. I voted for the first time since I turned 18 and had registered, and I convinced everyone of age that I spoke to about voting to do so. I know I can reach those that I elect through citizen letters, and thanks to my WRFI course, I know how to write them. I got my grandfather to cancel his newspaper subscription so he now gets paperless news online. I decided to preceptor for a Soil, Water, and Environmental Science class for the Fall semester where I shared my summer conservation experiences with Shell Canada, Jumbo Valley, and organic farming with the class and my honors section. These are just some of the ways that I have been affecting change since I got back from my trip, and it will continue to grow as my life progresses, because I realize now that even these little things matter.

For me, it’s been the greatest accomplishment and adventure of my life thus far. It’s been little more than five months since returning home from the backcountry but I talk about it every day. I don’t just talk, I revel. I remember and reflect. The return has been just as impactful so far as the experience itself. I am adjusting to the return with this knowledge and different more economical lifestyle.

Continue reading

Ben Schubert: Life After WRFI

BenWRFI loves hearing about our alumni’s adventures after their course. Ben Schubert was a student on 2012’s Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures course. This excerpt from an e-mail he sent us shows all the places you can go with a WRFI education!

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As outrageous as it sounds I passed up a position as an park ranger/interpretive guide intern at the needles district of Canyonlands from Feb – June. It was hard to turn down another spring in canyon country, and I loved the sound of the job (aside for it being closer to a volunteer position than a paying position), but I believe I made the right choice favoring somewhere I have never spent time.

I moved up to the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska this past Friday. I start work tomorrow. I am an SCA/AmeriCorps environmental ed intern working under US Fish and Wildlife. I will be teaching in local and regional school about river health, riparian restoration, and the greater watersheds present on the peninsula and through the state. I live in  a Fish and WIldlife bunkhouse cabin right on the Kenai Wildlife Refuge but I will work just up the road a few miles in the Kenai Field Office in neighboring Soldotna. Just bought a new camera last week so I am excited to capture this landscape and some wildlife. I will share sometime.

I am extremely excited. I would not be as motivated to do this if it weren’t for all of you WRFI instructors. You especially. Thanks for being there for us last spring and beyond….

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Thanks for staying in touch Ben!

Colorado Plateau Naturalist of the Day Excerpt

On the Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures course, students take turns being the Naturalist of the Day, writing down their observations of the natural and cultural history of the place in which they are travelling. This entry by Henry Gates was written during Labyrinth Canyon of the Green River. There are still three spots available on the 2013 Colorado Plateau course – visit http://wrfi.net/courses/colorado-plateau.html for more info!

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4/20/12 – Labyrinth Canyon Day 3 – Naturalist of the Day: Henry

There is nothing quite like a sunrise in the desert. The immense beauty it brings at such an early hour usually sets the precedent for the day.

Today’s first light broke around six o clock, setting a vibrant yellow lining around the horizon to the east. I faded in and out of sleep, with the colors intensifying each time I awoke. When I crawled out of my sleeping bag at 6:50 the sun was just peering over the line of land and sky to say good morning to me. In my book there is no better good morning or alarm clock in the world.

The day went about like any other boiling water and fetching food for the first meal of the day. We packed all our goodies, rigged our canoes, topped off our water bottles and left the shore at our usual 9 am. We continued our nomadic lifestyle setting sail on the river John Wesley Powell and his group named The Green.

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The river gives way to much life in this barren place. Dan and I quickly encountered a quaint family of geese on one of the river banks. A mother and father were swimming along with their goslings for a nice morning stroll. They had 6-8 babies that couldn’t have been more than 6 weeks old – a telling sign of the warm spring. We could easily see the size difference in the male and female parents. They swam outside of their goslings protecting their young from the strange floating craft. Not long after we scoped out a huge bird a top an electric pole. Many thought it was a hawk, but John thought it was a golden eagle. It would have been cool to see this bohemith bird in flight but cool none the less to see it at rest.

Not long after we saw the anomaly of the La Sal mountain range poking its snow capped mountains just above the horizon. As we passed along the enormous navajo cliffs above the river we saw the houses of the cliff swallows. Dan explained to me that they made these by picking up mud from the river banks and mix it with their saliva to create these nests. Not a bad place for a nice little home above the river with a great view.

Just  before making our first pit stop of the day, Dan and I observed a great blue heron in flight, but a few meters above the Green River. We speculated he was probably hungry and looking for a midday feed that hopefully consisted of some kind of fish.

We found camp around noon at the beautiful Trin Alcove. We ate lunch and took our first dip in the Green under the blazing spring sun. We had class for about 2 hours gaining knowledge about our new found landscape. After, we went for another nice swin in the cold, murky waters.

As I sit in a nice grove of maples it is hard to remember the heat of the day. We have gained nine more miles along the river both literally and figuratively. We have a layover day tomorrow to expand our knowledge and explore these deep canyons of Trin Alcove. But lest we not forget of the great wonders we have seen in our past and an eye on the adventures to come.

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Issue Update: Northern Cheyenne honor their ancestors’ journey

The few Northern Cheyenne who survived the Jan. 9, 1879, breakout from Fort Robinson, Neb., had nowhere to turn for help overcoming their nightmare of death and pursuit.

Their wounded psyches passed the pain from one generation to the next, even after the government — under pressure from the public — finally established a reservation in their homeland in 1884.

“Today we want to start the shift and stop recycling the effects of oppression and trauma,” Phillip Whiteman Jr. said Monday as children — descendants of those survivors — ran the last leg of a 400-mile journey following the footsteps of the Fort Robinson survivors.

It is the 17th time the tribe’s children volunteered to retrace the terrible journey from a frontier Army post in the northwest corner of Nebraska to Busby, where remains of some of the Fort Robinson victims were repatriated in 1993 after more than 100 years of storage in scientific institutions in the East. Continue reading

Job Announcement –Wilderness Instructors: Backpacking, Fishing, Rock Climbing and Mountaineering

Passages Northwest Wilderness School and BOLD Mountain School are primarily single gender YMCA programs dedicated to inspiring courage and leadership in diverse groups of adolescent girls and boys through outdoor adventures. Our vision is to promote a world that values all equally, offers youth opportunities to change their lives and communities for the better, and supports them in realizing their dreams. We prepare young people, from middle school on, to be the next generation of leaders through multicultural experiential education in the natural world. Find out more at www.ymcaleadership.org

In the summer of 2012 we served 450 youth 11-18 years old on 52 differnt one to three week wilderness expeditions backpacking, rock climbing, fishing and mountaineering in Washington and British Columbia. 50% of our students participate on scholarship and 40% identify as people of color.

We are currently hiring Wilderness Instructors for this coming Spring and Summer. Programs are based out of Seattle, WA. Continue reading

Energy, Water, and Power on the Colorado Plateau – High Country News

Producing more power means using more water

Locked up inside the 6 million years of sediment that makes up the Green River Formation, which extends across mostly public lands in Colorado and Utah, may be the equivalent of a few trillion barrels of oil. Even if only half of it is recoverable, the oil shale of the Mountain West could one day fuel the world, turning the phrase “U.S. energy independence” from slogan to reality.

Provided, that is, that there’s a reasonable way to coax the fuel out of the rock. Trapped in fossil-fuel purgatory, oil shale has to be heated to super-high temperatures, a process called “retorting” that requires enormous amounts of water. No one can even say for sure how much, although some energy companies try. Utah-based Red Leaf claims its technology needs only a tiny amount; other estimates say that full-scale development of oil shale in Colorado would require more water than all of Denver uses in a year. Continue reading