Summit celebrates mountain culture Silverton Mountain Studies Institute to hold inaugural conference Sept. 26-28

Kite Lake near Silverton.  - Photo by Jamie Morehart
If timing is everything, the Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton picked the perfect year to hold its inaugural conference: 2002 was declared the “International Year of the Mountain” by the United Nations.
“A Mountain Summit: Communities, Culture and Conservation,” which will take place Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 26-28 at Durango Mountain Resort, also will celebrate the founding of the institute, which opened in June.

The organization’s executive director, Ellen Stein, says MSI was several years in the making.

“It’s an idea that’s been discussed for 20 years,” she said.

The institute is a collaboration among Fort Lewis College, the U.S. Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management, San Juan County and the town of Silverton. Using Silverton’s rugged peaks as a living classroom, MSI’s goal is to study the geology, ecology and human history of the San Juan region.

“The mission is to enhance understanding and sustainable use of the San Juan Mountains by facilitating academic studies, field research and experiential learning opportunities,” she said.

The conference will echo this theme and feature speakers ranging from local politicians and historians to poets, writers and environmentalists. Topics range from conservation and public-land use to mountain community economies.

“There’s going to be a variety of speakers talking on a bunch of different topics,” Stein said. Everyone from public-land managers, academics, students, natural-resource professionals, mountaineers, conservationists, planners, community developers, recreationists, mountain lovers and history buffs are all encouraged to attend, she said.

Highlights include John Hereford, director of Great Outdoors Colorado, who will lecture on “Protecting Colorado’s Natural and Cultural Resources”; and Alton Byers, of the West Virginia-based Mountain Institute, who will cover “Preserving Mountain Systems.”

The event also will feature local speakers, including avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts discussing avalanche forecasting and mitigation and Thurman Wilson, of the San Juan National Forest, who will lecture on the social and ecological effects of fire.

The conference also will feature activities beyond the academic setting, with field trips as well as a movie that’s open to the public.

At 8 p.m. Friday in the Miner’s Tavern, 1069 Greene St., in Silverton, “Spirit of Snow,” a historical documentary of backcountry skiing in the Western U.S. and Canada by Dave O’leske, with an introduction by local skiing legend, Dolores LaChapelle, will be shown. The film received a special jury award at the 2002 Mountain Film Festival in Telluride and will be shown at this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival. The evening also will include a poetry reading by Rosemary Wahtola Trommer and a 12-minute short on the “extreme” restoration of the Old Hundred Boarding House.

The movie costs $5 with part of the proceeds going to MSI.

For those wishing to get out and explore the very mountains they’re discussing, the conference also will feature fieldtrips. Fieldtrips exploring the area’s mining and cultural heritage, including the San Juan County Museum, Silverton Cemetery and the Old Hundred and Mayflower mines will be offered as a pre-conference tour the three days prior to the summit (Sept. 23-25). More tours as well as hikes and jeep trips also will be offered on the closing day of the summit, Sept. 28.





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