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Stewardship Heroes: Mel Yemma

In the Gunnison Valley, we are privileged to have over 2 million acres of public land in our backyard. With that great privilege comes the even greater responsibility of caring for these lands entrusted to us, residents and visitors alike. We’re highlighting some of our local heroes who serve as advocates, and often volunteers, to protect and steward our public lands.

photograph showing Mel reaching the top of a climb on her mountain bikeMel Yemma is one of my personal local stewardship heroes and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share a little bit about what makes her such an asset to the community. I first got to know her through our mutual involvement in the Crested Butte Creative District, but over time I’ve become even more impressed by her commitment to caring for the public lands around Crested Butte through her role as the Open Space Coordinator for the town of Crested Butte and as a board member for the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association. She also makes a mean spinach artichoke dip and is a wonderful person to meet for coffee to get a sense of what is happening in town.

Below you’ll find some questions we asked her and her responses:

What originally brought you to the Gunnison Valley and why have you stayed?

Just like the cliche saying goes, I came to be a ski bum about six years ago and stayed for the vibrant summers, unparalleled outdoor access, and incredible community.

What stewardship/conservation/outdoors organizations are you involved in as either an employee or volunteer and how can locals and visitors get involved in the work?

Open Space Coordinator for the Town of Crested Butte & Board Member of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association. [Editor’s Note: Check out CBMBA’s website at that link to find out more information about volunteering to build trail with the mountain bike club!]

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing this Valley in terms of stewardship/conservation?

The reality is that our population continues to exponentially grow, and Colorado isn’t an exception. More people will continue to visit here, and more people wanting to play outside isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, negative impacts from overuse and misuse of our natural resources are starting to come to a head with our dependence on tourism/recreation based economy. I think we’re going to have a large challenge ahead of us to define what “sustainable tourism” really means and how to appropriately manage our lands in a way that works for our community and for the environment.

Another elephant in the conservation room is the amount of driving occurring for people to recreate. How can we plan for a better future in Colorado that requires less individual vehicles traveling all of the way here and then up and down each drainage?

What’s the most exciting thing happening with regards to stewardship and conservation?

Rather than continuing to complain on the internet, people have really stepped up in a big way to counter the impacts we’ve all witnessed in the past few years. The Crested Butte Conservation Corps has filled a huge need in our backyard with not only trail maintenance, but with stewardship education as well. The Slate River Working Group brought together over 18 stakeholders to address issues with floating on the Slate River, and the first year of its management plan has proven to be very successful, with broad support from the community.

It’s also exciting to see partnerships happening across boundaries: between different land managers, towns, counties, private landowners, user groups and the entire community. While planning efforts can take time, I feel like we’re moving at a fast pace to make positive change happen here locally.

How do you get out and enjoy our public lands?

selfie of Mel at the top of a peak near Crested Butte, CO with other mountains in the background

Biking, Hiking, Skiing, Alpine Lake Lounging

Are you learning any new activities this summer? Fishing/Biking/Birding/TrailBuilding/etc.

I’m just trying to get outside as much as possible! I’m also trying to improve my interest (and patience) with trail building!

What’s your favorite book or film about conservation and/or stewardship?

Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Nash

Who is your stewardship/conservation hero and why?

Jane Goodall: Jane’s particular passion from an early age for chimpanzees has led to redefining the spectrum of conservation across the world, which I find very inspiring.

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