RMFI founder dies, memorial to be held Feb. 8

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Hesse in the wilderness he loved. - RMFI
  • RMFI
  • Hesse in the wilderness he loved.

The Rocky Mountain Field Institute lost its founder suddenly in late January.

Mark Hesse was found unresponsive on the floor of the Boulder Rock Club. His death is still unexplained. A memorial will be held in his honor on Feb. 8 in Boulder.

I wrote about the good work of RMFI in a September cover story, "How to stop a flood," which you can read here, here and here. As the story explains, RMFI workers have been instrumental in doing flood mitigation work in the Waldo Canyon burn scar. That's just part of the legacy Hesse leaves behind.

Read on to learn more:

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of RMFI founder, Mark Hesse. Mark died Monday afternoon after being found unresponsive at the Boulder Rock Club. The cause of his death is still being investigated. Mark was a mentor and inspiration for the staff and board of Rocky Mountain Field Institute.

A memorial gathering will be held Saturday, February 8th from 1-4pm at Folsom Field, Club House Level (east side, near gate #9), 2085 Colorado Avenue, University of Colorado, Boulder. On behalf of his family and friends, we invite you to join us in remembering Mark.

Mark was involved with the American Mountain Foundation (AMF) in the early 1980s, a nonprofit whose original mission was assisting climbers with international climbing expeditions. After becoming president in 1987, he began the transformation that would turn AMF into the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. He ran RMFI (pronounced "rim-fee" by Mark) as executive director until 2008 and remained on the board of directors until 2012.

Mark was a visionary and leader in the stewardship of public lands. As a climber and mountaineer, he was deeply passionate about the protection and conservation of our natural landscapes. Mark's stewardship work started in 1989 with climbing areas, where he saw a need for well-constructed, sustainable access trails. Trails provided a way to both protect the surrounding landscape from impact and also provide hardened corridors for climbers to access climbs. Chances are you've walked on his trails, and seen the characteristic rock masonry associated with them, if you've spent time at Indian Creek Canyon in Utah, Shelf Road outside of Canon City, Eldorado Canyon outside Boulder, and countless other areas. This work continues through RMFI's efforts in Indian Creek Canyon, Shelf Road, and through the efforts of many other climbing stewardship organizations across the nation.

As a founding member of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, he drew attention to the needs of Colorado's high peaks and initiated a call to action to protect these remarkable lands. His heart had a permanent home in South Colony Lakes Basin, home to Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, and Mount Humboldt; where he spent more than a decade making the basin a model for how high use wilderness areas can be managed effectively for both recreation and conservation. This effort continues today through RMFI's work on Fourteeners in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and CFI's efforts statewide.

After completing an extensive study of the ecological state of Garden of the Gods Park, Mark initiated a community volunteer stewardship program in 2002 aimed at addressing the park's restoration needs. At the time, there were no other site-specific volunteer efforts on the scale proposed by Mark. Today, RMFI's Garden of the Gods Restoration Program is a model being replicated at parks and open spaces region-wide. Mark's vision in Garden of the Gods has resulted in extensive restoration and miles of reconstructed trails. Since 2002, RMFI has mobilized over 12,000 volunteers who have contributed to the park's stewardship.

Mark was no happier than when he was outside, moving rocks and building trail. If you have stories or memories about Mark, please share them with us.

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