Twenty-five years ago, San Juan National Forest, under the leadership of then Forest Supervisor Bill Sexton, decided it needed more community involvement, including hands-on experiences, in promoting stewardship of the national forest lands.
National forest officials sponsored a well-attended local symposium with the theme “Recreation Partnerships: A New Vision for the San Juan National Forest.” After the symposium, several community leaders were approached to help form an organization to meet that need. Thus, in February 1988, San Juan National Forest Association was born.
A “Thank You For Your Support” ad in the Dec. 22-29, 1989, issue of The Durango Herald’s Now Magazine described the Association as “a non-profit organization which helps promote education, conservation and interpretation of our natural and cultural resources.”
Although the association’s name was changed to the San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) in 1996 to acknowledge its regional coverage and its additional support for the BLM, that description still fits today. SJMA does not advocate for or against any specific policy, but instead promotes stewardship, responsible use and knowledge of our public lands through education and hands-on volunteer opportunities. As an earlier article in The Durango Herald said: SJMA “... put(s) the public in public lands.”
In the beginning, it did this by producing and selling books, a video and audiotape of the San Juan Skyway, guidebooks and maps – the first was a guide to bicycle trails in the Durango area – and by connecting local volunteers with needed projects on public lands.
SJMA began a Wilderness Information Specialist program that continues today, sponsored several popular Share the Trails events, staffed a seasonal information desk at the Durango Area Chamber Resort Association and eventually an information desk and bookstore at the new Public Lands Center. A Youth Conservation Education program was started and many field seminars were provided that covered the natural and cultural history of our area.
Today, SJMA manages 13 bookstores in our region, provides visitor information services about public lands, provides a substantial number of hands-on volunteer programs and projects as well as conservation-education programs for children, adults and families, and cultural programs and projects that focus on ancient and more recent history in the region.
SJMA began with fewer than 10 members, grew to 118 in its first year and has more than 700 members and volunteers today. Through the 25 years, SJMA has tallied more than 100,000 volunteer hours, including 18,000 last year alone.
At the beginning, SJMA was staffed only by volunteers, but because of the growth in number and complexity of programs, it now has 15 full-time and seasonal/part-time staff members. Twenty-five years of success, including many national and state awards for excellence, can be attributed to these dedicated staff members, volunteers and members – it could not have happened without them.
And it has been the continuing support of the entire community – the people and businesses of La Plata, San Juan, Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores, Hinsdale and Mineral counties that has ensured that SJMA would reach the Silver mark and will continue beyond.
And so, as in 1989, we say “thank you” to the entire community.
Larry Eads is a longtime volunteer and former board member of San Juan Mountains Association.