Garna Greater Arkansas River Nature Association - Education, stewardship, river ecosystem volunteering - garna logo

Photo Credit: William Helms

Protecting the Arkansas River Valley


The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) is an environmental nonprofit organization founded in 1996 as a cooperative association for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area for education and stewardship. GARNA works with communities of the upper Arkansas River valley to foster the stewardship of the region’s natural environment and the resilience of our communities.

GARNA’s coverage area is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains of south-central Colorado, spanning the 143-mile section of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area State Park, jointly managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. This spectacular region includes the upper Arkansas River watershed and some of the highest peaks and most scenic lands in the United States. GARNA’s work helps safeguard these public lands through the preservation of values and the development of public participation opportunities that help community members understand, appreciate and give back to their natural environment.

GARNA subscribes to a generational approach — that investments in learning and opportunities for public participation build on themselves and help ensure the long-term health of our public lands and waters.

Mission Statement

GARNA, through community collaboration, inspires a conservation ethic by providing educational opportunities and experiences so that those who live, work and play in the Upper Arkansas Valley are motivated to take care of the natural resources and leave a legacy of responsible use of the natural environment.


GARNA’s Board of Directors include regional experts with a wide range of professional skills and environmental and community interests. The collective focus is aimed at maximizing stewardship and community participation opportunities, coupled with innovative fundraising approaches and the highest standards of fiscal responsibility and transparency.

From Education to Action: GARNA's Programs Empower Communities

GARNA is a community connector through the Youth Ecological Literacy Program, popular clubs, such as the Birding, Hiking and Book Clubs, as well as community education programs that teach residents and visitors how to steward the area. GARNA is a popular landing place for new residents to the area who want to know more about the valley’s natural resources, water management, public lands management and sustainability issues. They learn about these issues and more through GARNA programs ranging from fire ecology to composting and recycling, from water quality monitoring to mushroom and wildflower hikes.

GARNA public education programs reach over 5,000 people per year, with a Youth Ecological Literacy Program that reaches over 1,800 youth per year with place-based, pro-social and STEM programs in Chaffee, Lake and Fremont Counties.

GARNA manages the largest group of volunteers in the Upper Arkansas River valley through its Friends of Public Lands chapters, environmental education, and sustainability efforts. Each year, over 200 hardworking volunteers clean, maintain and improve the health of the river ecosystem in the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area State Park, as well as the surrounding public lands managed by federal agencies. Volunteer workdays on public lands include the growing Chaffee Rec Adopters, which creates a collaborative culture around managing outdoor recreation and increasing volunteer abilities to be effective stewards of the valley’s major economic driver – our outdoor resources.

GARNA also administers the Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Board (CCHAAB), established by Chaffee County resolution in 2004. CCHAAB has completed numerous state and national level historic nominations, preserving Chaffee County’s rich history and agricultural heritage. In addition, CCHAAB plans and implements the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway, one of 26 Colorado driving byways that connect the dots between historic sites and acres of majestic scenery. The byway is instrumental for maintaining scenic viewsheds and enabling multi-modal byway offshoots such as the Leadville to Salida Stage and Rail Trail, a route between Leadville and Salida following the historic stagecoach roads and rail corridors.

GARNA programs also include waste diversion initiatives in partnership with Chaffee County, Poncha Springs, Buena Vista and Salida. Programs with Latinos Unidos and other communities of color offer opportunities to connect a diversity of community members and cross-pollinate public lands user groups. GARNA’s youth program also targets underserved youth by leading an effort to establish a community gear library. GARNA also partners with Chaffee County Boys and Girls Club, Get Outdoors Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida and Lake County School Districts, to make fun and educational outdoor learning available to all youth of the Upper Arkansas Valley.

Program Milestones

Measuring GARNA's Impact

For more information on our most recently reported program milestones, view the Annual Report.

2023 GARNA Annual Report

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