Summit High alum Leigh Girvin dedicated to preserving open space
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Things have changed since Leigh Girvin roamed the halls of Summit High School back in the late ’70s. For one thing, they were different halls.
When Girvin’s family moved from Chicago to Summit County, she was 10 years old and attended Frisco Elementary, which at that time was the current-day administrative building near the middle school. Soon after, Breckenridge Elementary opened and she transferred for one year before returning to Frisco for middle school and then high school, which were both located where the middle school sits today.
“The county was growing quite rapidly at that time,” she said.
In the meantime, Girvin’s high school class remained small at only about 64 students, compared to just under 200 in 2013. Girvin remembers this as a positive.
“It was a very small school, so pretty much all the kids did everything and I was no exception,” she said. “It seemed like I was always busy with extracurricular activities.”
Girvin joined the school cross-country ski team for a year, helped put together the yearbook, performed in the choir and the fall musical each year and served as class president.
Girvin remembers each of the four musicals — “Damn Yankees,” “Mame,” “Brigadoon” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
“It was just so much fun,” she said of her various activities.
Girvin feels that her high school experience was very different from what students experience today, particularly in terms of schedule and structure.
“We had a lot of freedom as kids growing up here in Summit County,” she said. “It’s just amazing to look back on it today, with so many restraints on kids now and fear that parents have, that we just didn’t have growing up and it was a great way to grow up.”
All in all, Girvin remembers it as a fun time, with good teachers and great friends.
“Some of my junior high and high school friends are still some of my dearest friends today,” she said.
Off to the east coast
After graduating from Summit High School, Girvin attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts. At that point, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do yet, career-wise.
“The best thing about a liberal arts education is it can send you in a lot of different directions,” she said.
Right out of college she took a temp job for the League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C., during the 1984 election year in which she was able to work on projects for the presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. While she said she enjoyed the experience, after a year and a half she was ready to go back west.
“I quickly had enough of that and had to figure out how to get back to Colorado,” she said, “and I did.”
Discovering a passion
Returning to Summit County, Girvin tried her hand at several different jobs, including working for an advertising agency, property management, the resort chamber and the Summit Huts Association. From 1992 to 2002 she served on the Upper Blue Planning Commission, which really opened her eyes to the developmental-related changes in the county.
“Needless to say, back in the ’70s growing up in Summit County, there was a lot more open space than there is now,” she said. “Seeing the loss of open space and the loss of natural lands and the loss of wildlife habitat — and not just wildlife habitat but places where wild plants go, where the pollinators need the plants and the flowers — to see the loss of all that was what drove me to get involved as a planning commissioner.”
From her position as planning commissioner, Girvin moved over to the Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT) in 2002, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve open space and natural land in Summit County through preservation agreements, stewardship and public education. Girvin, now the executive director at CDLT, has loved the job and the passion it awakened in her.
“When we started losing trails to development, that energized me and a lot of other people as well,” she said, “but it was really that experience and realizing that trails without open space are 1 percent of what they could be, my focus really started turning to open space at that point.”
One of the fun things about being back in Summit County, Girvin said, is being able to see old friends and classmates on a daily basis.
“I really enjoy seeing friends from Summit still around, bump into classmates ahead and behind (and) in my same class,” she said. “We all share a bond.”
In fact, Girvin realized, soon it will be 35 years since the graduation of the class of 1979.
“I guess it’s time to start planning our 35th reunion,” she said with a laugh.
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