Marketa Zubkova chosen Mountain Leader of the year
In celebration of International Mountain Day (IMD), 140 environmental leaders from a cast of organizations across the valley and beyond gathered over dinner in Mt. Crested Butte on December 11. Groups including Vail Resorts, the towns of Crested Butte and Gunnison, High Country News, Eleven Experience and others hosted tables to talk over mountain issues and solutions.
John Hausdoerffer, dean of Western Colorado University’s School of Environment and Sustainability, and Ian Billick, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, co-hosted the dinner. Western launched the new Center for Mountain Transitions at the event, welcoming community leaders to partner with students and faculty on mountain-based sustainability projects. Douglas McGuire, recently retired member of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, eloquently delivered the night’s keystone address. Above all, the dinner had an air of optimism in the face of our generation’s climate crisis.
Western’s director of the poetry concentration in the Creative Writing MFA, Aaron Abeyta, opened the evening with a poem titled A Letter to Hausdoerffer Regarding la Gente de Antes. Abeyta is the mayor of his hometown, Antonio, Colo., and hails from a line of several generations from the region. In the poem he recalls a saying his grandmother would tell him in his youth, “Como la Gente,” or in English, “like the people.” The phrase reminded the guests of the dinner of all peoples’ responsibly to be a good ancestor—to honor those who came before us, and those who will come after us. This year’s IMD’s theme was centered on the youth, and the poem tied in the responsibility of the youth to inherit what has been passed down and care for it until the day they must pass it down again.
McGuire also directed his keystone address toward the youth. Pulling from an almost 30-year career with the United Nations, he described what challenges the new generations face in the coming century. He also mentioned how he noticed the attitudes and optimism of Western students that he has not noticed in the young people he worked with in Rome. Feeding off that optimism, he said, “If we look around us, there are so many bright spots, there are so many wonderful things that are happening in our own communities. It’s not to say we don’t have serious challenges—we have to really look at the bright spots that are happening in the world today.”
Many of those bright spots were highlighted throughout the night. The Gupta Fellows of Western’s Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program sat together and received applause for the work they are doing, in the Gunnison Valley and across the world. Other MEM students, nominated by their peers, were recognized for their exemplary citizenship within the program. Western students Jake Burchmore and Sam Liebl screened a film (https://vimeo.com/379278667) with footage from mountain communities in Puerto Rico, Panama, India, Austria and the Rockies.
The evening’s Mountain Leader Award went to Marketa Zubkova for her work with the Valley’s immigrant community. An immigrant from the Czech Republic, Zubkova works with the Hispanic Affairs Project, providing legal advice to immigrants. On Sunday, December 15 she also hosted an event for International Migrants Day at Fred R. Field Western Heritage Center.
The evening exemplified the local and global nature of IMD. McGuire visited the valley for the first time after a career in Rome. MEM students who work across the community, nation and world were recognized. IMD was created in 2003 to bring more awareness to mountain issues. This year’s dinner, 16 years later, focused on mountain solutions. The optimism of the evening will no doubt carry on with the momentum created by the youth. See https://youtu.be/2Ad8O4ZUXGM for a short overview of the day.