Celebration of Our Mountains started small in 1994, with UTEP geology professor and group founder Phil Goodell running a few field trips in the fall for a few people. 

Today, the program offers over 40 events spanning August to November that last year brought out 5,800 participants. 

The group behind it is a smooth-running collective of volunteers and environmental partner organizations, all ready to showcase our region as a top eco-tourism destination. 

“When we talk about our mountains, we’re also talking about the desert, geology, ecology, history, wildlife and sustainability,” said Jim Tolbert, the group’s CEO, webmaster, program developer and fundraiser for the last 11 years.

This year brings an unprecedented variety of experiences for all ages, ranging from following in the footsteps of dinosaurs to rigorous mountain scrambles.

“We have so many knowledgeable people here,” said Eric Kappus, biology professor and outreach liaison at Southwest University and geology research associate at UTEP.

He cites educators like Paul Hyder, a high school science teacher who “opens people’s worlds with his nighttime field trips in the desert” and community members like mountain experts Carol Brown and Judy Ackerman, who make flora and fauna more memorable for hikers.

Getting outdoors and getting in some exercise is part of the program’s appeal.

“My favorite thing is seeing people enjoying nature and the beauty of the area,” Tolbert said. “We’ve known of people becoming more active after going on our hikes.” 

 

Expanding horizons

The group’s 25th anniversary year started strong when it achieved incorporation under Texas law and 501c3 nonprofit status.

“We had been running the events out of a shoebox and wanted to institutionalize it,” Tolbert said. “We’re positioned for the future.” 

The first step was electing officers for the first time: Kappus, president; Hyder, vice president; Eileen Karlsruher, treasurer; and Paulo Galvan, secretary. Richard Teschner and Don Baumgardt complete the new board.

The group has depended on sponsors to help cover costs, but the new status opens up new avenues for fundraising – and expansion. Advertising in local and Texas media would be a start. 

“We really have to think about getting the word out locally and nationally,” Kappus said. 

“People don’t realize what kind of treasures we have in our mountains and all of the geological eras we can see here and all of the fossils. I’ve seen groups of people from all over North America come here to study our mountains.”

 

Spotlighting El Paso

Holding more events spotlighting El Paso amenities and resources throughout the year is on their agenda.

“In recent years, we’ve been adding science and technology programs to the mix and drawing in more children and young people,” Tolbert said. 

“We’ve toured places like the El Paso Electric power and solar plant and this year we’re going to the Sunspot Solar Observatory outside Cloudcroft. We want to show our youth all the opportunities for careers in the sciences around El Paso.”

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