Campfire Conversations held in Monte Vista


MONTE VISTA — Monte Vista was the second stop of a trio of events called On the Road — San Luis Valley on Nov. 9 at the Church Project.

The series dubbed “Campfire Conversations” is a Colorado program of the Wright Collegiate Challenge. The program opened Nov. 2 in San Luis and concludes Nov. 16 at the 4th Street Diner and Bakery in Saguache.

“On The Road is a series of journeys into rural Colorado, meeting people where they are and experiencing first-hand the relationships, we hold with the places we call home. Through our shared stories, we are offered a window into the lived experiences of real people doing meaningful work and making their way in real communities across Colorado,” said On the Road organizer Chuck Sullivan of the Wright in a press release.

Chris Lopez and Ivette Atencio, of the LOR Foundation, were a couple of the moderators of the Monte Vista event. Most of the moderators were also speakers.

Speakers for the evening included Charlie Burd, a Valley rancher and Ski-Hi Stampede Committee member for 40-plus years; Jenny Nehring, biologist, vice president of Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges and volunteer of the Monte Vista Crane Festival; potato farmer Margie Martinez-Diaz, of Martinez Farms; Peg Schall, of the Monte Vista Historical Society and Transportation of the West Museum; Monte Vista City Council member Victor Sigala; MV community member Pablo Zamarripa, and Patrick Ortiz, of San Luis Valley Great Outdoors.

Moderators asked the speakers what they felt about their lives, the place they call home and certain subjects related to their areas of expertise.

Some of the speakers such as Burd and Nehring were grouped together by the moderators due to their affiliation with the same organizations, in this instance the Crane Festival and Stampede.

Burd and Nehring said the Crane Festival and Ski-Hi Stampede draw many people to the community. Nehring said the Crane Festival helps the economy because when people visit the community, they spend money.

“The Crane Festival predominantly attracts people from out of town, that don’t have a connection to our town to visit Monte Vista,” Nehring said.

Burd said the Stampede draws the community together and even if the community is out of town, such as relatives that may live in Denver and other places, they come back for the Stampede.

“Stampede brings community together, look at the graduating classes, the class reunions, there is so much that stampede does for the community, this is just part of it,” Burd said.

Nehring, who has lived here for 25 years, and Burd, who is the third generation to live here, also spoke about ranchers and farmers.

Ortiz and Madeleine Ahlborn, who is the director of the Church Project, spoke with farmer Margie Martinez-Diaz and Schall of the Monte Vista Historical Society.

Martinez-Diaz said her family has been growing potatoes and barley here for generations.

“I farm with my husband. Growing up I told my dad I would never be a farmer,” Martinez-Diaz said.  

Schall said she came to the Valley when she was 4 or 5 years old to live with family who had been here for a number of years.

Martinez-Diaz and Schall spoke about what they hoped for the future of the San Luis Valley.

Martinez-Diaz said, “I would hope to continue with the same camaraderie, the same values, the same values that the Valley has. I would hope the people that come in could see all of that.”

Atencio, who is the officer for the LOR Foundation in Monte Vista, was the final moderator of the evening. She spoke with Zamarripa MV Mayor Pro-Tem Sigala.

Zamarripa said he worked at a correctional facility for about 10 years. He went back to school recently and recently earned his bachelor’s.

Sigala said he was born and raised in Monte Vista.

“I was born here in City Hall so it’s kind of wild for me to be in there during meetings,” he said, referring to the days when City Hall was the hospital.

Zamarripa and Sigala were asked if they had any cultural traditions that tied them to the community.

Zamarripa pointed to the Cinco De Mayo Celebration. He said there was a lot of community there, with a good turn-out, and a sense of pride even in the shirts that were sold to help the school.

“The Cinco De Mayo Tradition. It was nice to have that. It was chilly, but there were so many people that came to the celebration. It’s nice to see the tradition here,” Zamarripa said.

Sigala said that the culture didn’t matter as much as the people mattered. Sigala said the people are what tie everyone to the Valley.

“It’s not about the culture, it’s about the people. People change culture. It’s really about the people and the community,” Sigala said. 

Both also spoke about growing up in Monte Vista and how they became the people that they are today.

The Wright Collegiate Challenge is a partner program of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. Its goal is to prepare Colorado higher-ed students to enter the state’s workforce by providing first-hand experience working alongside outdoor-sector businesses and non-profits to develop actionable solutions to current-day challenges within their respective organizations.