The Leadership Steamboat class of 2022 landed on a timely topic to tackle to create an active, local, volunteer Bear Aware Program called Keep Bears Wild.

“In partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, our goal is to protect bears while living beside them, keep them wild, and educate the community on how to keep bears wild,” according to Leadership Steamboat.

The objective is to create a consistent volunteer program that will help educate and inform community members, businesses and visitors of the importance of being Bear Aware. The group is recruiting effective volunteers and outfitting them with tools needed to deliver Bear Aware messaging community-wide, said Leadership Steamboat Co-chair Mike Kozer.

The group set up the email address for residents who would like to get involved or become volunteer community educators.

The current Leadership Steamboat group of 18 participants set a community fundraising goal of collecting donations of $10,000 by May 1 to support this year’s project, produce information materials and a volunteer training handbook, and pursue other current grants.

Keep Bears Wild outreach events begin Wednesday, March 30, with a fundraiser live print event 4-7 p.m. at Ohana at 843 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Steamboat Springs. The group is hosting upcoming education tables on April 2 at Ace Hardware and on April 10 at Springalicious at Steamboat Ski Resort, Kozer said.

A black bear jumps out of a trash bin at the Selbe Apartments on Rollingstone Drive in this archive photo. The bear climbed into the trash dumpster, and startled residents before being scared off by Steamboat Springs police officers.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today
This year’s project was suggested by class member Jennifer MacNeil, executive director at Yampa River Botanic Park, a frequent visitation site for bears. Last summer, MacNeil reached out to CPW to ask for a Bear Aware volunteer to educate the park staff, but she found out the overall CPW Bear Aware program was not active locally. After hearing on the radio about another local bear being euthanized, MacNeil proposed the education project to Leadership Steamboat.

Bear Aware resources:

“We felt it was something tangible that we could tackle and make a difference. Everybody seems to be pretty passionate about this project,” MacNeil said, noting the local program will draw from similar education efforts in Durango and Montana.

As the Leadership Steamboat donation letter noted, “Every time we are forced to kill a bear, it is not only the bear that loses. We lose a little piece of the ‘wild’ that makes our community special.”

Christy Bubenheim, CPW administrative assistant in Steamboat, provided a helpful presentation to the Botanic Park staff last year that resulted in several changes. The park no longer houses any bird feeders, because even though the feeders were stored inside a shed at night, bears found the bird seed after the shed was opened in early mornings. The park purchased their own Bear In Area signs and has an air horn on hand to harass away bears. Workers also pick crab apples off park trees and changed their procedures to now close off sections of the park when bears are napping in trees, instead of attempting to run off napping bears.

“We learned how to work around the bears and make sure to give them their space,” MacNeil said.

Leadership Steamboat, which is facilitated by the Steamboat Springs Chamber, helps develop local leaders who want to increase their impact on their organizations and community. The annual program started in 1995, and applicants are often sponsored by their employer, said Sarah Leonard, chamber community development director.

The group’s annual projects have tackled a variety of topics through the years. In 1997, the group investigated the feasibility of a nonprofit thrift store that planted the seed for the first LiftUp store on Oak Street. In 2000, the group built a playground for the lower income housing complex at Hillside Village Apartments. In 2011, the group created and produced the first comprehensive Bike Guide for the community.

In 2012, the group worked with the City of Steamboat Springs to purchase and place recycle bins next to trash cans along both sides of Lincoln Avenue in downtown. In 2014, the group formed Yampa Valley Gives in partnership with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation to widen the reach of the ColoradoGives program to include more nonprofit organizations from Routt and Moffat counties.

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