With No Treks…What Did We Do All Summer?

COVID Relief Partnerships

We invested energy and time helping our local community to build meaningful relationships with neighbors. A few examples:

  • We partnered with the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID Relief group to turn our Mess Hall into a food distribution center. A combination of Gulch staff and community volunteers sorted, packaged, and delivered enough food to feed over 1,400 people for two weeks each.
  • We teamed up with Chizh for Cheii (which roughly translates as “Wood for Grandpa”) to deliver firewood from overgrown forests at the Gulch Basecamp to Navajo elders, who use the wood for cooking and warmth. This project had the added benefit of reducing the fire risk on our property.  We are planning to continue this work in future years, both with staff and trekkers.
  • We hosted Ancestral Lands youth crews at Basecamp, who completed additional forest thinning and stacked wood as part of the Chizh for Cheii project. They also took down dangerous dead trees along our walking paths.  This partnership has been ongoing for years now and we were happy to provide a last-minute training and work site when other projects fell through.
  • To read more, click here.

The Ancestral Lands program trained staff on chainsaw safety and cut firewood that was later distributed by Chizh for Cheii, providing winter heating fuel for Diné elders.

 Gulch staffer Brad Jeffrey loads boxes of food at Basecamp for distribution through the Navajo-Hopi Relief Effort, in partnership with local volunteers from the Navajo Nation.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work

In May, along with much of the rest of the world, we were shaken and appalled by George Floyd’s murder. The front-and-center national conversation that ensued pushed us to look again at our own history, and the history of environmental and outdoor education organizations like ours that have, for decades, served primarily white populations. We also began assessing, both internally and externally, what we are doing (or not) to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Some of the partnerships and projects described here, and elsewhere in this newsletter, are an outgrowth of those conversations. Behind the scenes, we are reassessing our policies, job descriptions, and program priorities. We have also begun DEI trainings with our staff and board of directors. We are learning that this work is not simple–it is not focused on a list of accomplishments, and more on creating an inclusive, equitable culture. That work was accelerated this year, and will continue forever.


We Started a Strategic Planning Process

…and we want your input! Our staff and board of directors are working with Bonnie Chavez, who served as Cottonwood Gulch’s Interim Executive Director last winter, to create a strategic plan for the next several years. The process has only just begun–we formed a small committee that will be seeking information and inspiration from all of you. Stay tuned-, and if we don’t have your email address (if you haven’t received any emails from us lately, we probably don’t have it), please send it to us!


We Made Basecamp Even Better

A summer without trekkers gave us time to give our Basecamp some love, build needed infrastructure, and make improvements to some existing areas.  We:

  • Built 20 new bunk beds for the upstairs bunkhouse in our new QM Building.
  • Constructed a new latrine at our TT Cabin Loop.
  • Built a new fence around our the Gulch farm, planted a cover crop in the garden beds, and grew some food for our staff.
  • Rebuilt our pool deck, which had been a splinter-filled hazard.
  • Weatherized the new QM building, protecting it for years to come.
  • Built rock dams to control erosion and encourage new vegetation long decommissioned trails.
  • Cleaned, a lot! Inside, outside, and throughout the property!
  • Updated our Basecamp office: newly painted walls, new chairs, new (faster!) internet, new outdoor work station.
  • To read more, click here.

 Volunteer Sarah Strohmeyer strips bark from recently cut ponderosa pines to provide material for bunkbeds.


 20 new bunkbeds will provide sleeping space for 40 in the Spring and Fall seasons in the new QM Building.


We Adapted Programs to a COVID World

We worked closely with our partners and alumni, at local schools and across the country, to rethink our programs in light of the pandemic. This fall, we are starting to see the fruits of those efforts. As it turns out, programs like ours are increasingly valuable:

  • Our Youth Conservation Corps crew began in September–a small group, working and living outside for five weeks. To read more click here and here.
  • We are providing some small group, outdoor team building opportunities for local school partners, like Tech Leadership High School. To read more, click here.
  • Our Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) program has moved online this semester, with great support from our partners at The Wilderness Society. To read more, click here.
  • Through our partnership with Bernalillo County and Bachechi Open Space, we turned our Speaker Series and Sunday Family Fundays into virtual events, and reached hundreds of people in the process. To learn more, click here.
  • We brought on an intern, Mia JespersenChavez from Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque, to help with our Bachechi events, and more. To read more, click here.
  • In partnership with several organizations, we created “Grab-n-Go” outdoor lessons, which families picked up at school lunch distribution sites.
  • We hosted numerous Virtual Campfires and online discussions to stay engaged with our community.
  • We built new partnerships with schools, like Robert F. Kennedy Charter School, who are eager to find ways to connect students with the natural world.