Commuting Through Conservation

Written by Amber Pougiales

A CCALT staff member gets reacquainted with her sense of place during her daily commute in Routt County.

When everything seems to be turned upside down, I find solace in reflecting on the times when things have fallen perfectly into place. In 2018, I applied for a fellowship position with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT). I had no experience in the field, but I carried with me an eagerness to learn and a deep passion for the conservation work being done. This is an industry that few seem to know much about, so how was it that I, having not grown up in agriculture, found myself so fired up about conservation?

I took my surroundings for granted growing up, as most children do, having no idea just how lucky I was to be living in small town Colorado. It wasn’t until after I left home for college that I realized I had unknowingly fallen in love with a place. While most people around me were becoming enthralled with exploration and world travel, I found myself continually drawn back to my community and the sense of place that it provided me.

For Steamboat Springs, home is created by the 5th generation agricultural family living next door to an Olympian, the sweeping ranch lands that greet you as you descend down Rabbit Ears Pass into the Yampa Valley, the quiet that blankets the town during mud season, and the inability to go to the grocery store without seeing someone you know. It is these familiarities that I sought to protect when I knocked on the door of CCALT – a small town hippie looking for a job in the agricultural sector to help conserve a sense of place.

I miraculously landed the job and after just a year of working in Denver, experienced another moment when things seemed to fall perfectly into place. In the fall of 2019, CCALT began finalizing a merger with the Yampa Valley Land Trust, and just like that, I was presented with an opportunity to move home. As I made my way down Rabbit Ears Pass for the final time as a temporary visitor, I was greeted by the welcome and familiar sight of snow covered ranches that haven’t changed for decades.

As I drove into the valley, I had an overwhelming sense of certainty about my decision to move home when I realized that my daily commute would bring me through one of the very landscapes that inspired me to pursue this work in the first place. Over the coming weeks, as I commuted to the office in Steamboat I became aware of just how big a role conservation had played in protecting this place-defining landscape.

To get to the Steamboat Springs CCALT office, I drive approximately 12 miles north and 1.5 miles west alongside the Yampa River. This is the furthest I have ever commuted for work, but it is by no means dreary. Just over eight miles of my 13.5 mile drive are bordered by conserved lands that encompass over 8,000 acres of the valley floor. That is 85 miles per week of conserved landscapes in my windshield and no less than 10 times a week that I get to be reminded of why this work means so much to me – another perfect happening falling into place.

If you are curious to know where and how conservation impacts your daily life in Colorado, let us know! We would love to tell you more about how conservation impacts your commute, your recreational activities, or your sense of place.