By: Marissa Markus
I would like to introduce myself so that I may explain how I became so interested in watershed management. I moved to Gunnison, Colorado in August of 2008 from Kingwood, New Jersey. Gunnison appealed to me for several reasons, one being that it was so similar and yet so different from where I had grown up. Gunnison and Kingwood are both small, rural towns filled with charismatic and hardworking individuals, making Gunnison instantly feel like home. I’ll admit it though, it did take me a while to not miss the thick, green forests of Kingwood and appreciate the dry, patchy sage-steppe of Gunnison. A while being about two years. I vividly remember the moment I did start to appreciate it. I had just spent a little time traveling, and I was driving home (to Gunnison) from Denver. Afternoon storms had just finished blowing over and everything was happily wet. I rolled down my window and was surprised by the prominent smell of sagebrush. I used to like the way the rain smelled in New Jersey too, but this time I had missed the smell of sage. That was when I realized that every place, every habitat had something unique and wonderful at least hidden within. I would spend the following seven years developing an intimate relationship with this place, my home, and our community of Gunnison, Colorado.
I graduated from Western State Colorado University (WSCU) in 2012 with a double major in Environmental Studies and Ecology. Upon graduating, I began digging my roots deep in the ground because, well, that’s where the water is. I became a wildlife research technician, and I worked with the Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly and white-tailed ptarmigan in the alpine, Gunnison sage-grouse and Gunnison prairie dogs in the sage-steppe, and burrowing owls and black-footed ferrets in the grasslands. You name the species, I probably lovingly harassed it. Having said that, the summer of 2013 was the most time I had ever spent wandering around the sagebrush. Simply put, it was humbling, and I was honored to do the work I was doing. Being in love with this place, I could not help but begin to question whether my work was a reasonable contribution to the land and its constituents.
I was always drawn to the water. The wetlands were literally in my backyard in New Jersey and the Gunnison River has been out my front door here. It is beautiful, powerful, ebbing and flowing, stubborn yet flexible, hot or cold with little in-between, a trickle or a rush, and a life breathing force. I could go on … but basically I can relate because it’s a lot like me. Or one could at least dream big, right? On a serious note, it is a great and powerful resource that needs to be delicately balanced or life cannot sustain. If we do not use it wisely at the headwaters, then the consequences are ten-fold. Drawing from this passion for water that has always been deep inside me and with this yearning to make a positive influence in our community, I enrolled in the Master’s in Environmental Land Management Program (MEM) at WSCU.
With my history of wildlife research and writing dry, scientific papers, I hoped to easily transition from biology to hydrology. I figured I could at-least get my feet wet, so to speak, and start to network within the water community. I recently accepted an internship position with UGRWCD as an opportunity to learn 1) how water is managed in the Gunnison River Basin and 2) what the UGRWCD’s role is in that management. I never thought that I would find myself here, blogging for UGRWCD, because I love how reclusive wildlife research can be and how impersonal scientific literature is. I quickly surrendered to the fact that water is a social issue, and I’ll have to be both personable and passionate to address the issues surrounding water. It is an issue that directly influences my home and my community. Thus, I started volunteering on the Wet Meadows Project which works to restore critical riparian habitat, I attended water conferences, and I started attending UGRWCD board meetings. At this point, I am still enthralled with this organization, and I am thrilled to tour water projects in the basin and attend meetings and workshops.