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.
Focused on more than environmental issues, the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA)recognizes that how it builds, plans and cares for the communities in the Upper Arkansas Valley increases community resilience, and that makes a difference in how the community values and stewards the natural environment. In the heart of the Rocky Mountains of South-Central Colorado, spanning the 143-mile section of the jointly managed Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area State Park, GARNA’s geographic coverage includes the watershed of the Upper Arkansas Valley. Without GARNA serving the communities of the Upper Arkansas River Watershed, a valuable community and public lands connection would be missed. Without the valuable education about how to take care of these public lands, an uninformed community would risk losing public lands and losing values and responsible participation in the valley’s amazing outdoor opportunities.
GARNA is a community connector through its Youth Ecological Literacy Program, its popular clubs, such as the Birding, Hiking and Book Clubs, as well as it’s 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 Envision Rec Adopters, which creates a collaborative culture around managing outdoor recreation and increases volunteers’ 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. The CCHAAB has completed numerous state and national level historic nominations, preserving Chaffee County’s rich history and agricultural heritage. The 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.
GARNA programs, such as its waste diversion initiative in partnership with Chaffee County, Poncha Springs, Buena Vista and Salida, family hikes, outreach with Latinos Unidos and other communities of color, and public and youth educational programs, offer opportunities to connect intergenerational community members and cross-pollinate public lands user groups. GARNA’s youth program 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, and more, to make fun and educational outdoor learning available to all youth of the Upper Arkansas Valley.