A brief history of the Mountain Park Environmental Center
The vision that led to the creation of Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC) is built on a foundation of promoting societal ecological literacy through environmental education. Or, to put it more simply, providing opportunities for people to learn about and connect with Nature. A decade later, this vision continues to be the guiding principle of our organization. Our programs for children and adults have received numerous awards and media coverage and serves several thousand people every year.
The years leading up to the opening of MPEC saw Pueblo Mountain Park, owned by the City of Pueblo, as an under-utilized, but ideal, outdoor classroom. There had even been talk of the City liquidating the park. Through the work of a dedicated group of Pueblo area visionaries, Mountain Park Environmental Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was established in 1999 to facilitate the creation of the Center. In close collaboration with the Greenway and Nature Center of Pueblo (GNC), the University of Southern Colorado (USC), and the Pueblo Parks and Recreation Department, MPEC became reality in March 2000, when the Center officially opened our doors.
During our first three years, MPEC operated in a limited partnership with the GNC, including administrative ties with USC. Since March 2003, due to changes at USC and the GNC, MPEC has been operating as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.
In July 2008, MPEC took over management of Pueblo Mountain Park from the City of Pueblo’s Parks and Recreation Department. This development greatly expanded the scope of our work in the park.
From March 2000 through October 2008, MPEC was headquartered in Pueblo Mountain Park’s main caretaker building. The building’s 1500 square feet served as an Interpretive Center, a classroom and meeting space, a Nature Gift Shop and offices. In October 2008, after completing Phase 1 of the Horseshoe Lodge Revovation, MPEC has been headquartered in the completed portion of Pueblo Mountain Park’s historic Horseshoe Lodge. This greatly expanded space now allows for an expanded Interpretive Center with hands-on displays on the natural and cultural history of the area, the Nature Shop, three classrooms / meeting spaces, public restrooms, a biomass heating system (and many other “green” building elements).
Thanks to a brilliant idea by a young Forest Service employee over 90 years ago there is a Pueblo Mountain Park today!
It was the year 1919, a time when our young system of National Forests existed for essentially two reasons: timber and grazing. Along comes Arthur Carhart, a 27-year old “recreation engineer” and visionary.
Carhart believed that certain areas of our forests should be set aside for recreational pursuits like hiking, camping and fishing, and for learning too! Many people thought this idea of using our forests for recreation and education was kind of crazy.
But not everybody. Fortunately, Carhart inspired a group of Pueblo citizens, the San Isabel public Recreation Association. On January 15, 1920, the Association convinced the City of Pueblo to purchase the 611 acres of land that became the Pueblo Mountain Park for $6,000. Carhart continued to work for land protection, including protecting wild places as Wilderness Areas.
Among those who were touched by his ideas was Aldo Leopold, a highly respected environmental leader.
Leopold wrote a book entitled A Sand County Almanac. Published in 1949, it is still one of the most important books about conservation ever written.
In it, Leopold speaks of what he calls the “land ethic”. The land ethic asks us to see the soils, waters, plants, and animals, or , all together, the land, as a community of interdependent parts to which we belong.
In short, a land ethic changes the role of humans from being in charge of the natural world to plain member and citizen of it. A thing is right, he says, when it tends to preserve the health and beauty of Nature. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
Just as Carhart, over 90 years ago, challenged us to see the forests as more than just a source of timber, Leopold’s land ethic challenges us today to look beyond using Nature for only human wants.
But not everybody! Others believe that the land, especially wild land, needs more protection. They say that the loss of natural places and extinctions of species will continue until Leopold’s vision of preserving the health of the natural world becomes our nation’s vision.