Steve Reese

Steve Reese, first manager of AHRA, stands next to the new sign in the early 1990s.

The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association will present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Steve Reese, the first Colorado State Parks manager for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, during GARNA’s 25th Birthday Bash Fundraiser.

The event will feature live music, dancing and food from 4 p.m. to sunset Sept. 12 at River Runners, 24070 CR 301. Tickets are available until Sept. 2 at https://bit.ly/garna25bdaytickets

“I believed in rivers,” Reese said in a GARNA press release. “They meant something important. Working for the Arkansas River and the AHRA was a perfect opportunity to have a part in something important.”

In 1989 when the AHRA, which stretches 148 miles along the Arkansas River from Lake County to Lake Pueblo, was created, Reese was one of only two AHRA employees. As such, he played a key part in implementing the agreement that allowed the Bureau of Land Management to maintain ownership but put management in the hands of Colorado State Parks.

“The early days were a bit chaotic and challenging. From the beginning, in the middle of all that chaos was the very reason that GARNA had to be an outcome,” he said. So many interests, including landowners, anglers, commercial outfitters, private boaters, local agencies, environmental groups and water users, wanted “their part of the river, the part that was important to them.”

Those interest groups came together as the AHRA Citizen Task Force. “They had a real impact on what and how things were accomplished,” said Reese, who managed the group.

A few years later, Reese contacted Kathryn Wadsworth, a river ranger on the Arkansas at the time, to see if she would help organize people seeking to merge their interests and ideas about the river. “We wanted to see if we could accomplish more outside of the park structure,” he said. “It really was that wide open except we had several years’ worth of issues that mattered to people, and Kathryn was familiar with all of them.”

Wadsworth reached out to the community, seeking people with common interests who shared the desire to protect the river and their place along it. “It started to work,” Reese said. “From here GARNA began to take off.”

“Steve was and is the reason GARNA exists,” said Wadsworth, who still lives in Salida. “He is a collaborator. He knew the value and potential that a stand-alone nonprofit nature association could bring to the table. He knew the ultimate success of the AHRA would require an outside organization to help the natural resource agencies educate and engage with the area’s citizens.”

Reese’s vision proves even more important today as visitors flock to the Arkansas Valley in record numbers. GARNA continues to partner with AHRA to provide the annual Headwaters Institute, educating new raft guides about the valley, the annual Cleanup/Greenup on Colorado Public Lands Day and more recently, employing large-scale volunteer efforts to understand, record and mitigate the impacts of growing outdoor recreation usage along the river corridor with the Envision Recreation in Balance project.

“In addition to other key natural resource agency managers and many local volunteers, Steve provided the foundation that is still allowing GARNA to be an important voice at the table,” Wadsworth said. “His commitment to our natural, cultural and historical resources is unmatched.”

“The Arkansas River connects everybody to everybody else. We need to be connected. That’s why I thought GARNA was, and still is, so critically necessary,” Reese said. “I knew that GARNA could be a key part of making this community part of AHRA’s river management.”

Since its inception, GARNA has expanded its focus to provide ecological and life-changing programs and opportunities in environmental education, stewardship and sustainability. GARNA currently reaches 5,000 visitors and residents each year through public programs and involves more than 1,600 rural youth per year in Chaffee and Lake counties through field trips, camps and other programs.

GARNA also manages the largest group of volunteers in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and is currently working with the county to determine waste diversion needs and opportunities and a plan to best accomplish and sustain the community’s recycling-related objectives.

“We are so grateful to Steve for his vision. He knew the role GARNA could play in our community, and he showed extreme dedication to getting us off the ground,” said Dominique Naccarato, GARNA executive director. “We are honored to celebrate his contribution at our 25th Birthday Bash Fundraiser.”

The event will include dinner by Kalamatapit Catering and dancing to the Delta Sonics, an award-winning Denver band whose music “takes a Chicago blues base and seasons it with swing, Delta, N’awlins R&B and some early rock ’n roll.”

The event also features a silent auction that will launch online Aug. 28 and continue through 7 p.m. Sept. 12. Items will include an hour-long flight over the valley, art, outdoor gear and more. To bid, visit www.accelevents.com/e/garna-silent-auction.

The entire event will be outside and allow for social distancing. Recommendations from Chaffee County Public Health will be followed to ensure safety.

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