This year, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) completed our 1,000th volunteer stewardship project and designated 2017 as our Grand Milestone season. Since we started more than 30 years ago, our volunteers have touched nearly every corner of Colorado, building and improving trails; managing invasive species; and restoring the land after natural disasters.
Of course, a lot has changed since we first encouraged Coloradans to get their hands dirty in 1984. To share how we got to our Grand Milestone, let’s take you back to our roots.
1980s: The Early Years
Colorado looked a lot different when VOC was founded: Footloose was in theaters, CD players were a new invention, and 2.3 million fewer people lived here. We had less public land, too, with 13 fewer state parks and only half of our state’s National Wildlife Refuges and National Wilderness Areas. But even then, Coloradans recognized the need for stewardship.
Thus, VOC was founded in 1984 with inspiration from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s National Volunteer Project, an initiative that ultimately led to the development of multiple trail stewardship organizations across the country.
Our first year, we engaged nearly 200 volunteers in just three projects. Two years later, we pioneered our Crew Leader and Project Team structure and, by the end of the decade, we had expanded our projects to 10 and were involved in more than just trails; receiving the prestigious Department of the Interior’s Take Pride in America Award.
1990s: Expanding Stewardship
While big hair left with the 80s, big projects continued to be a mainstay of VOC throughout the 90s. We hosted a 1400-person project at Chatfield State Park; a 1200-person project at Sand Creek; and planted 10,000 trees with more than 1,000 volunteers in a single day!
But that wasn’t the only way we were thinking big: in the 90s, VOC began working with likeminded Coloradans to develop stewardship organizations that would be able to tackle more specific and/or local needs; this resulted in the launch of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) in 1995 and the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) in 1997.
By the end of the 90s, VOC had grown to 7 employees and raised capital to restore a historic city park bathhouse into our beautiful office space in Denver’s Wash Park.
2000s: The VOC We Know Today
With a new millennium came a new model for VOC. To reach more volunteers and care for more places, we began to diversify our program offerings and implement weeklong projects; youth projects, including our high school Cairn Youth Program; and custom corporate projects – all now staples of VOC!
VOC’s Blueprint for Outdoor Stewardship helped to guide the development on an online volunteer clearinghouse and the establishment of the Colorado Outdoor Training Initiative (COTI) which would come under VOC’s wing as the Outdoor Stewardship Institute (OSI) in 2007.
VOC volunteer leaders were instrumental in raising funds to establish VOC’s Operations Center, which houses all of VOC’s tools and project equipment; and we established our first volunteer partnership office in the San Luis Valley.
By 2009, we had completed more than 200 projects throughout our 25-year history and the volunteer season was beginning to look much more like it does today.
2010s: Change and Collaboration
VOC started the decade with the development of the Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition (COSC), a group of 30+ nonprofits and land managers that would host the first Colorado Stewardship Forum and release five studies on the impact of volunteer stewardship over the next few years.
After celebrating our 30th anniversary, we rebranded with a new logo in 2015 and hosted our first Uniquely Colorado event. Then, we developed even more initiatives to spread stewardship, including the Steve Austin Training Scholarship, our YourCo mobile app, and youth programs with Lake International Middle School and Denver’s Westwood neighborhood.
This year, a barrage of headlines about overuse and vandalism in some of our state’s most beautiful places shone a spotlight on the challenges facing Colorado. Against the backdrop of our Grand Milestone, VOC took on a variety of initiatives to expand stewardship throughout the state and into the future: we hosted a day-long discussion with land managers and stewardship organizations at the Naturally United retreat; started a partnership with the Colorado Tourism Office to inspire locals and visitors alike to care for Colorado; began compiling our best practices into a toolkit for organizations to start or enhance their own volunteer stewardship programs; and began developing a statewide campaign to promote stewardship.
2018 & Beyond: The Future of Stewardship in Colorado
As we move into 2018, VOC is exploring new ways for everyone – individuals, businesses and organizations alike – to find their place in caring for Colorado’s outdoor places. Our state’s physical and political landscapes will continue to change but, just as we’ve done for 33 years, VOC will be ready to adapt and evolve to meet Colorado’s changing needs.
To stay up to date with what we’re doing to care for Colorado’s public lands and what you can do to help, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our e-newsletter to be the first to hear about our 2018 project schedule and other stewardship initiatives. If you’d like to support our stewardship efforts today, consider scheduling a Colorado Gives Day donation here.
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