John Denver

John Denver’s Tribute to the Conejos River

ASPEN – Would John Denver have been so involved in environmental issues if he had stayed in Montgomery, Ala., or Fort Worth, cities where he spent part of his childhood; or Lubbock, where he attended Texas Technological College; or Los Angeles, where he launched his singing career?But the fact is that Denver did leave those urban areas and moved in the early ’70s to Aspen, and thereafter added his famous voice to numerous environmental causes. In 1976, he co-founded the Old Snowmass-based Windstar Foundation, devoted to education about the sustainability of the planet.Hollie Carter, for one, sees a general connection between becoming familiar with a beautiful landscape and being inspired to preserve the Earth. Carter’s film, “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado,” which has its premiere Wednesday at the Limelight Lodge, is a love letter to the beauty of the Conejos River Canyon in southern Colorado. It speaks of the need to protect the area’s mountains, rivers and forests.But the film is also something of a marketing effort. Carter says “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado” was not made merely to give viewers an appreciation of the region from a distance; it is meant as an invitation to visit the Conejos area.”The point is, nature is out there for everybody. And the more people get out there and see it, the more they’ll want to protect it,” Carter said, adding that the film even includes a short segment on ATV riding, as the National Forest Service has maintained ATV trails in the high country around Conejos. “You get people there and they walk around the place, and they appreciate it more and want to help take care of it.”Carter said southern Colorado is among many places in the United States that could benefit from eco-tourism – tourist traffic that is lured by the natural beauty of a place, and that emphasizes preserving the things that make the location special. So she wants to make “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado” – which she sees as the first in a series devoted to lesser-known, picturesque spots – available not only to schools, but to chambers of commerce as well.Conejos, she said, “is not the wealthiest part of Colorado; it’s a low-income area. But the people have a jewel – the mountains, the hiking, the waterfalls, amazing fishing. And they don’t necessarily want the things that go with building a ski resort. What we saw was a way to tell communities, even in other states, that you can welcome tourism, and the tourism dollar, and not ruin the environment.”Carter is not a filmmaker, nor a marketing executive, nor even a Coloradan. She teaches fourth grade in a big public school system near Atlanta. (The teacher in her added elements of history and geology to “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado,” her directorial debut.) But for seven years she volunteered as director of the Windstar Foundation’s summer camp. At Windstar – and, since John Denver’s death, at the memorial concerts and events staged in Aspen each October – Carter got to know the community of Denver’s fans, and with their support, she founded Peaceful Blue Planet three years ago. The organization’s activities include last year’s Wake Up Your Possibilities symposium in Aspen, which featured keynote speaker Dr. Robert Fuller, founder of the Hunger Project.Wednesday’s screening will be followed by a performance by Chris Collins, a singer-songwriter who lives part time in Conejos, and who was the music director at the Windstar summer camps led by Carter. Collins contributed the score and original songs to “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado.”••••The screening of “Conejos: Undiscovered Colorado” and the performance by Collins help kick off a slate of John Denver-related events. Denver died in an airplane crash in Monterey Bay, Calif., in 1997.Also Wednesday: Steve Weisberg, a bandmate of Denver’s through the mid-’70s, begins his Up Close & Personal series of musical gatherings (4 p.m., Limelight). Weisberg’s series continues through Sunday with daily events at the Limelight.Thursday activities begin at 9 a.m. with a volunteer work session at the John Denver Sanctuary. Also: the Friends With You Band (2 p.m., Aspen Community Church); Jim Connor, who wrote the Denver hit “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” performing Remembering John Denver (5:30 p.m., Aspen Community Church); and Doin’ Their Own Thing, featuring Bill Danoff, Pete Huttlinger, Mack Bailey, Herb Pederson and others performing their own music, with the video “What One Man Can Do” (7:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House).Events on Friday include a Rocky Mountain High Hike (leaving at 8:15 a.m. from the Mountain Chalet); a concert by Aspen Meadow (10 a.m., Aspen Community Church); a presentation of JP McDaniel and Jon Van Zyle’s children’s book “Mardy Murie Did!” (noon, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies); Concert for Vital Ground (2 p.m., Limelight); and the 13th annual Musical Tribute to John Denver (7:30 p.m., Wheeler).Events on Saturday include lunch at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, with music by the Friends With You Band (11 a.m.); and the Musical Tribute to John Denver (7:30 p.m., Wheeler).Sunday features A Windstar Celebration (10 a.m., Windstar Land Conservancy, Old Snowmass); and John Adams and Friends: Rocky Mountain High (7 p.m., Wheeler).stewart@aspentimes.com

originally published Aspen Times

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