As the aspen trees began to change color in the Colorado high country, Veterans Green Jobs’ Director of Veterans Transition Programs, Garett Reppenhagen, drove out to Dinosaur National Park to join the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Colorado’s own Ken Salazar, for the opening of the new Quarry Vistor Center. They discussed job growth through the American Great Outdoors initiative – a fitting topic for a beautiful outdoors setting.
In the rural areas of northern Colorado and Utah exist one of the more remarkable river basins and geographic areas in the world. The Yampa River runs through the mountains and badlands, eventually connecting with the Green River, and flows into Utah providing critical fresh water to the farms and ranches on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. The area was once home to many generations of First Americans. Native Americans who settled the valley realized immediately its importance to their survival and the power of its majestic landscapes.
Today it bears importance due to the fact the Yampa River is one of the last “wild” rivers in the United States. Meaning, it is one of the few rivers that has not been dammed. It serves as an important place for research on the ecology and behavior of uninfluenced waterways. It also happens to be one of the most important locations for paleontologists. Because of a special bend in the river system, dinosaur bones have collected downstream in sediment and been preserved. It is one of the largest collections of fossils in the world. The open quarry is an attraction that people from all over come to observe.
Veterans Green Jobs has visited this region many times before. For the last two summers, the Veterans Green Corps program completed invasive species removal in the National Park rivers. This work helps to restore fish habitats and save other native plants species from being choked out. It is difficult and dirty work, but the reward of rafting on one of the most beautiful rivers, and sharing the experience with the park staff and other military veterans, makes it worth it. Veterans are never shy to lend a hand. Helping out with conservation efforts on the land they swore to protect is a continuation of their service to their country.
Although conservation is not the main priority among most public officials these days, those with the passion to conserve these great national resources find a way to include efforts to preserve our outdoors through job creation. It was for this reason that the head of the Department of the Interior came to help open the new Dinosaur National Park Quarry Visitor Center and speak to the public about the American Great Outdoors initiative.
The ceremony included a prayer from a Ute medicine man, a Utah National Guard Color Guard who presented the American flag, and a 21-gun salute by a local American Legion post. It was educational to hear about ways in which the materials from the old visitor center were recycled and reused, and how sustainable the new center is. However, the most interesting part of the presentation was Secretary Salazar’s words about how we can continue to develop our natural resources, and use them for recreation, while still protecting them for generations to come.
Secretary Salazar talked about the amount of work and the number of jobs it would require to undergo the level of conservation needed to accomplish the task, and how the Department of the Interior would support that work through the American Great Outdoors initiative. A Sergeant of the Utah National Guard had previously told VGJ’s staff that some soldiers in his unit worked in the oil fields nearby. However, many of them were out of work. After an upcoming combat tour in Afghanistan, many more will be out of a job when they return home in a year. It was encouraging to hear the Secretary talk about job prospects in this soldier’s local area that would allow him to work outdoors protecting the region he grew up in.
At the end of the day there was a ribbon cutting and a private meeting with stakeholders and Secretary Slazar. Garett attended the meeting and talked more in depth with ranch owners, federal employees, and community organizers about how there could be better cooperation in conservation efforts. The Secretary promised to sign a memorandum of understanding drafted by the group by the end of October. The San Luis Valley, the Denver Metro Greenway project, and the Yampa River Basin are areas in Colorado highlighted by Governor John Hickenlooper under the American Great Outdoors initiative to receive increased attention. Veterans Green Jobs will look into additional ways we can help get training and meaningful jobs for veterans under these efforts.
by Garett Reppenhagen, Veterans Green Jobs’ Director of Veterans Transition Programs