The High Country Conservation Center can trace its roots all the way back to 1976, when Summit County local Tim McClure founded the Summit Recycling Project (SRP) with the purpose of reducing waste and promoting environmentally effective practices.
Although today the name is different, the mission is not. High Country Conservation Center (HC3) is a nonprofit organization that promotes waste diversion, recycling and composting education, energy efficiency and sustainable food practices within Summit County. Thursday will mark the 24th year of the Tim McClure Memorial Benefit, an event that simultaneously raises money for HC3 projects and gives homage to the man that started it all.
"As far as Tim, he was truly a visionary, in so many ways," said Jeffrey Bergeron, a close friend of McClure's.
When the Summit Recycling Project began, it handled both the operational and the educational aspects of recycling and waste reduction in Summit County, including creating drop sites and picking up, shipping and selling materials. In 2006, the Summit County government stepped in, offering to take care of the operations aspect if SRP would continue the educational outreach.
"As we became the HC3 in 2006, we decided to not only do waste diversion but also focus on energy efficiency," said Jen Schenk, executive director of HC3. The program now also includes sustainable food production with community gardens.
Although McClure died in an avalanche in 1985, his vision of environmental improvement and protection has grown and even flourished in Summit County. Just three years after his death, locals Bob and Rose Wentzell worked to revitalize SRP. In the following year, they held the very first memorial benefit for McClure, which has continued ever since, becoming a local event not to be missed.
The benefit will take place Thursday at The Maggie in Breckenridge, starting at 6:30 p.m. It costs $20 ahead of time or $25 at the door, with all proceeds going toward HC3 projects. The event includes live music from local band The Big Onions, dinner, drinks and a silent auction with various donated items including skis, season passes and local lodging stays, among others.
"We get tremendous support from local businesses," Schenk said of the donations received to make the event possible. "We really want this to be a true local event. We don't want it to be pretentious; we want it to be a lot of like-minded environmentally conscious folks that get together."
Leigh Girvin, executive director of the Continental Divide Land Trust, another environmentally focused nonprofit organization in Summit County, has attended many of the benefits over the years.
"I would say it's one of the more fun nonprofit events of the year for the environmental community," she said. "It's been going on for such a long time that it really has garnered a following of folks that make a point to not miss it every year."
Girvin emphasized the importance of supporting the environment through nonprofit organizations such as HC3, stating that benefiting them will quickly come around to benefit the community
"The nonprofit community in Summit County is so important for the quality of life that we enjoy," she said.
Girvin recalls a recent visit to Roaring Fork Valley, near Carbondale, where she found out the community there had very limited recycling opportunities.
"I found that really disappointing. At the same time, I understand," she said. "That community that is very environmentally aware doesn't have the ability to recycle like we have. That's just one example of how the organizations in our community that benefit the environment, how important they are to our quality of life."
According to Schenk, the Tim McClure Memorial Benefit raises more than $20,000 each year for HC3, which is used to support its many environmental and educational programs.
"It's the greatest thing going," she said.
Remembering his friend, Bergeron said, "He was really an amazing guy and just thought of things that none of us thought of." Things like the environment, for example. "He was passionate about the environment when the rest of us couldn't understand why."
Bergeron said that he thinks McClure would be proud of where his idea and his organization have gone over the years.
"I can say with complete conviction that he would have been totally enthusiastic about the High Country Conservation Center," Bergeron said. "That is something that I think he would say grew and it flourished and blossomed to a point where he'd be instantly proud of it. Maybe he'd be shocked that it has done so well and grown so well, and he'd definitely approve of it."