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Steamboat Magazine

Generations of Sustainability

06/22/2023 07:00AM ● By Suzy Magill
(Margaux Shea leads the Eco Club at a Fridays for Future rally in 2021. Photo by Margaux Shea.)

From Steamboat Magazine Home Edition 2023. 

The future of our planet belongs to youth, and students at Steamboat Springs High School are leading the movement to protect it. 

The Eco Club is a group of local students led by co-presidents Margaux Shea and Thomas Cooper, who manage projects and encourage individual lifestyle choices that support the planet. Emi Cooper, widely known in the community for her activism, is Thomas’s older sister. She started the club pre-Covid, but it was mostly inactive during the pandemic. 

Made up of about 20 students in all grades, the club has doubled in size since it was formed. Both increased recruiting of underclassmen and a global rise in awareness and involvement in sustainability have led to more students participating in the club.

“I think it’s a really special role to work with both underclassmen and upperclassmen, especially in a fight that is so pivotal right now. We need everybody that we can get,” Margaux explains. “I don’t want to just lead this club. I want other people to lead with me.”

Recent projects were a community tree planting, a campaign to city council and fundraising for Colorado Gives Day.

Last spring’s tree-planting efforts began with calculating the school’s paper usage. The club spoke to teachers regarding their usage in classrooms and the front office about general paper usage outside classrooms. To be most accurate, the club used pre-Covid estimates from 2019. The result? Per year, the school uses around 600,000 sheets of copy paper and a million sheets total, translating to a planting goal of 205 saplings.

Working with Tim Sullivan, resilient land and water director at Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, the group decided what trees would best suit the valley’s soil and harsh climate. They settled on red osier dogwoods, Douglas fir and blue spruce. 

Members of the Eco Club worked to secure local sponsorships and donations that made saplings, purchased through Tree-Plenish, available to the community for free. The Eco Club delivered saplings for residents to plant themselves or did the heavy lifting and planted the saplings for them.  

Last fall, YVSC reached out to the Eco Club with another concern: the city council was planning to power the new city hall and fire station project with natural gas. The club discussed the pros and cons of natural gas versus electric energy sources and created a template for writing letters, providing guidance and confidence to the students. 

“A lot of these kids have never done that before, and it can be scary to write letters or do any kind of public comment,” Thomas explains.

The club sent about  20 letters to the city council. A week later, the council decided on an all-electric plan. 

The road is not without challenges though. During last year’s high school club fair, Margaux ran both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes table and the Eco Club table and was told she needed to choose between the two.

“I thought that was such a fascinating idea that your personal and community beliefs might not mix in the eyes of others,” Margaux says. “I don’t think that’s how this should work at all. The climate fight doesn’t need to be a political fight. Our climate is changing, and we need to change with it.”

Both graduating seniors, Margaux and Thomas plan to take what they learned through the Eco Club with them. 

“Even the little changes in your lifestyle can make such a big difference, whether that’s changing your diet or your normal transportation methods,” Margaux explains. “The movement is about being able to recruit people in that effort, and no matter how small that is, it can create a big impact.” 

The duo hopes that the Eco Club’s work can spark community-wide conversation outside the high school.

“Steamboat is full of very outdoor-oriented people and we need to raise community awareness that this lifestyle is not going to be available forever; we are going to have to make some serious changes in our daily lives to be able to live this life that we love,” Margaux says. “This is not just a youth movement. This takes everybody.”