07.23.15

Yampa River Awareness Project, v.2015

Back in the winter of 2006-7, a group of Yampa River advocates got together with aspirations to produce a documentary film about this great river in northwest Colorado—to show its unmatched beauty, unique natural attributes, and the various water projects and proposals that could impact it. They were successful in making and distributing that original film, and those aspirations grew into the Yampa River Awareness Project.

At its heart, the Yampa River Awareness Project is an annual 5-day raft trip down 71 miles of river that flows mainly through Dinosaur National Monument. Organized by Friends of the Yampa, those invited include water managers, ranchers, agency staff, conservationists, river runners, foundation representatives, journalists, and businesspeople. The goal is to have them experience and document the wild and free-flowing Yampa, help inform the public and policy makers about what would be lost if a major dam, diversion or other de-watering project took place on the river, and to inspire them to protect it. And, of course, to give people an unforgettable experience and the luxury of river-time to exchange ideas and stories.boats and trail

Over the years, the project has generated a steady drumbeat of magazine and newspaper articles, films, NPR radio pieces, a National Geographic video series, over-flights, participation in key public meetings, cooperation between agencies, attention from the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and more. One of the most recent appeared July 6, 2015 in the online edition of Smithsonian, written by trip participant Heather Hansman.

That drumbeat for protecting the river remains steady thanks to Friends of the Yampa. They are helped by a number of non-profit partners and collaborators, such as American Rivers, American Whitewater, and Conservation Colorado. Friends of the Yampa is also part of the Conservation Lands Foundation’s Friends Grassroots Network, which is made up of nearly 60 non-profit organizations around the west that advocate for “their” beautiful place (e.g.,: the Yampa), as well as for the entire system of National Conservation Lands.

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The National Conservation Lands are 31 million acres of the most ecologically rich and culturally significant of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Composed of National Monuments and National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails and more, they are found throughout the West, Alaska and even extend to the East Coast. Established just 15 years ago, they are our nation’s newest collection of protected public lands—joining our National Parks, National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges as guardians of our heritage and driver’s of the country’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Near the Yampa River, the Little Snake and White River BLM field offices manage several Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) that are part of the National Conservation Lands. The largest is Cross Canyon WSA, which includes a world-renowned white water stretch of the Yampa just east of Dinosaur National Monument. Others to the north of the Monument include Ant Hills, Chew Winter Camp, Peterson Draw, and Vale of Tears. Diamond Breaks WSA is northwest of the Monument and overlooks the spectacular Canyon of Lodore, near the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. These and all places that are part of the National Conservation Lands reflect our understanding that truly conserving natural and cultural resources means protecting large areas—entire ecosystems and archaeological communities. Threats to the Yampa and public lands around it remain. As this July 10th Denver Post article explains, there is a proposal to divert the Yampa to a reservoir and construct a 3 to 4 billion dollar “pumpback” pipeline to deliver water to the Front Range.

The Conservation Lands Foundation took part in the 2015 river trip and extends a heartfelt thanks to Friends of the Yampa’s volunteers and board members. Thank you for being incredible champions for the Yampa River and for becoming allies and advocates for these wonderful public lands around it. (photos by C. Overby)

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