In April 2022, I joined the NFF as its Central Colorado Project Coordinator. Based in Salida, in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River Valley, I will support conservation and restoration projects on public and private land, with a focus in Chaffee and Lake Counties.

The Upper Arkansas River Valley – lands of the Ute, Cheyenne, and other Indigenous communities, is about two and a half hours southwest of Denver. This valley forms the headwaters of the Arkansas River, a tributary of the Mississippi River and the sixth-longest river in the United States.

The San Isabel National Forest and public lands border the Upper Arkansas River and make up a significant portion of its watershed. I have a lot to learn from years of collaborative work between federal, state, local, and private partners who have invested in helping restore the environment in the Upper Arkansas Valley. I look forward to using my experience in environmental law and policy to help continue these efforts.

Photos by Matt Nykiel.

Snow or sun, Matt Nykiel loves to recreate on National Forests all over Colorado!

The Pike National Forest, to the west of Colorado Springs where I grew up, is the sister forest to the San Isabel. I’ve spent a good deal of time recreating in both forests as well as fighting fire there, as a crew member with the Pike Hotshots. As a firefighter I was able to see firsthand the impacts of climate change which inspired me to hit the books and enroll at the University of Colorado Law School. After graduation, I clerked for a Colorado state district court judge, Gregory M. Lammons, and spent the following five years practicing environmental law and policy with the Idaho Conservation League and WildEarth Guardians.

Like so much of the West, the combination of over a century of fire suppression and the mounting impacts of climate change have altered the landscape and ecosystems in Central Colorado. Forests are generally denser, drier, and composed of historically irregular species mixes, all of which can increase the likelihood of high severity wildfire.

The same absence of fire on the landscape alongside increasing pressure from human development has also degraded and fragmented habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, and other native species. But folks in the Upper Arkansas Valley are working together to meet these challenges and do right by the environment, and I am eager to support these efforts.

One of the best parts of conservation work is getting to closely know the people and environment of a particular place, and I’m looking forward to doing this in Central Colorado with the NFF.

Cover photo by Justin Kulacz.

National Forest Foundation