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Summit County conservation veteran moving on

JULIE SUTOR
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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FRISCO – In 1997, Carly Wier held a newly minted environmental studies degree from the University of Colorado, after logging thousands of hours in the classroom studying climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, air pollution and related issues. Her boyfriend wanted to live near the slopes, and Wier was ready to get her hands dirty in the world of environmental protection. So an $8-an-hour gig as a recycling technician with Summit Recycling Project seemed like a perfect fit.

“I had to learn how to drive a forklift,” Wier said. “And I learned that the worst thing ever was a hangover and a recycling job. The smell of sour beer and milk really teaches you to moderate.”

Wier stuck with the organization for more than 10 years, serving as its education coordinator before taking over the executive director position in 2002. She helped move the organization’s mission beyond just recycling into energy conservation and green building, and she oversaw its name change from Summit Recycling Project to High Country Conservation Center. She has been on the front lines of waste diversion in the community: Her work, along with that of dozens of others, has increased waste diversion in Summit County from 3 percent when she started to about 30 percent today.

Next week, though, Wier will take her talents elsewhere for the first time, when she ventures to Alaska to oversee communication and outreach activities for the Alaska Center for the Environment.

“She’s very passionate about all of this,” said Amy Mastin, board secretary for High Country Conservation Center. “It’s not just that she’s a conscientious, hard worker. This job has been a manifestation of who she is. She has a vision that has really guided us, and I’m sure it will serve her very well up in Alaska.”

When Wier started at Summit Recycling Project, the operation was almost entirely a nuts-and-bolts recycling operation, with little going on in the way of outreach.

“The organization just ran the drop-off centers. We didn’t even have displays or informational brochures. I immediately saw a need for that and started doing it on my own time,” Wier said.

Wier lobbied the group’s board of directors, and before long, she was its first education coordinator. She headed into schools, wrote columns for the newspaper, instructed citizens on proper sorting and made appearances on television.

“We still had no office for staff. We had this little warming shack at the drop-off centers. Needless to say, I worked from home on my computer to get things going, but I still sorted bottles and cans and drove the forklifts,” Wier said.

The board appointed Wier as the executive director after some turmoil in the organization’s leadership. She had plenty of experience in implementing programs, but the responsibilities of running a nonprofit were completely new to her.

“We wondered whether she was ready, but she just took the ball and ran with it,” Mastin said.

At the time, the county’s recycling volumes were increasing exponentially, and Wier was excited, if a little nervous, about taking the reins.

“If I could have created my dream job, this was it. It was a very challenging time – we had really bad trucks and equipment and no money. The only way it all worked out was that we had really dedicated, thrifty people who wanted to make a difference,” Wier said.

The recycling program continued to grow, and eventually Summit County government institutionalized it into a county department, complete with a materials recycling facility at the landfill, allowing recyclables to be processed inside the county.

The shift allowed Summit Recycling Project to grow into new issue areas such as energy conservation, green living and green construction.

“It was kind of scary. It seemed at times we were taking a step backward. But we’ve grown really slowly and deliberately, and we’re strategic about what we focus on. There were no people offering energy audits up here at that time, so we jumped up and did it,” Wier said.

The Conservation Center was involved in a three-year-long project to develop a sustainable building code for Summit County, used by local governments to encourage environmentally friendly design and construction.

“It was definitely worth the long process to create a program that’s really tailored to our community, our own climate, our own waste stream and our own unique sources of materials,” she said.

In all, Wier said the part of her job she’ll miss the most will be the people.

“We’re a unique population – the people moving in and out, the retirees. You really have to figure out how to communicate with all of them, and that’s been the most rewarding and fun part, for sure.”

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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