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Land restoration resides in healthy relating

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Groundwork, a nonprofit focusing on the intersection of climate change, environmental issues and culture, will host a series of multi-day events this summer focused on Western Slope ecology. The first event was May 4-7 in Paonia, and there are five more opportunities with the final on Aug. 6-12 near Grand Junction. Each session dives into ecology, botany, medicinal plant identification and relationship-minded conservation.

Instructors Kelly Moody and Nikki Hill lead the series, called “Human and Nature Ecologies of Colorado.” Participants spend up to a week at a time exploring the landscape, cultivating relationships with one another and the more-than-human world and uncovering ecological nuances of our region.

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Groundwork was founded in 2008 by Executive Director Jeff Wagner after he worked as an “educator by trade” abroad in Asia for six years. During his travels, he noticed a stark contrast between climate change conversations in the U.S. and other countries.

“I saw a lot of debate in the U.S., and technology was framed as the only solution to climate change,” he said. “It is often seen as a solar panel and electric car deficit in our society. While I think those technologies have a good place in society, I also think that’s just a pretty incomplete way of looking at it.”

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He based the organization on wisdom he received from mentors overseas, with a goal to bring different perspectives to the climate change debate by focusing on individuals’ relationships with the lands where they reside. This is accomplished through cultural sensitivity, drawn from the examples set by Indigenous peoples.

“In Colorado, I’ve noticed a tendency to view the land we live on as a backdrop for adventure, which is how I was taught to see it growing up,” Wagner said. “The programs we’re offering this summer will focus on getting people to build a deeper relationship with our home, to see the land as a place they’re actively involved with.” 

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Moody and Hill’s courses will be immersive, with participants getting their hands dirty as they develop the skills to read landscapes and practice belonging.

Moody is an ecologist who has traveled and studied plant life throughout the U.S. for the past 15 years. She is also the host of “The Ground Shots Podcast.” In her courses, she hopes to encourage participants to slow down and observe their landscapes.

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“I know Colorado has a big recreation culture, and that’s wonderful. So many people love to get out on the land. However, in my experience on the Colorado Trail, many want to go and go fast and often don’t pay attention to what’s happening on the land,” Moody stated. “I just want to cue people in to slow down and see what’s beautiful.”

She said her classes will help participants build connections with landscapes and advocate for them. A typical day during a course will involve some teaching, sharpening hands-on outdoor skills, observing plants and soil and periods of reflection with reading and writing.

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“It takes a lot for people to take a week to get out there, but once you’re out, it feels like it hasn’t been enough time,” she said. “What I pulled together is all these multilayered lenses that we use to look at land through, while getting geeky about botany, wild-tending, ecological awareness and landscape awareness.”

Hill has studied ecology for 18 years and worked in wild-tending, creating and maintaining wild plant populations, and studying plants outside of agriculture for the past decade. She met Wagner three years ago and is now collaborating more in-depth with Groundwork.

“What I’m hoping happens is, I introduce people to different realms, approaching ecology from a place of relationship,” Hill said. “So, [it’s] not just about what makes a habitat or what places should look like, but what it does to enter into a relationship outside of those ideas.”

She also hopes to introduce skills and knowledge for wild tending, helping participants to identify patterns beginning with the plants at their feet, and how everything is interconnected.

“Plants are showing us all the fingerprints of relationships that have happened over many years. Modern fingerprints, older ones, they’re all here at the same time,” Hill stated. “If we’re hoping to have restoration, understanding or a different life … those pathways are in the fingerprints of the plants, showing the way to what is possible.”

Registration for the remaining courses is open at

Tags: #Groundwork #Jeff Wagner #Kelly Moody #Nikki Hill #Wester Slope ecology
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