News Coverage

05 December 2023

THE ASPEN TIMES: Posada on Public Land: Outdoor Tree-cutting Event Offers ‘Great Experience’ for Roaring Fork Latino Community

Category: News Coverage

A partnership between an advocacy group and a government agency aims to increase Latino visitorship to public lands, and — anecdotally, at least — it’s working.

Defiende Nuestra Tierra, the Latinx outreach arm of conservation advocacy group Wilderness Workshop, and the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the White River National Forest partnered for their fourth annual Christmas tree-cutting Posada event on Saturday.

Families and community members from the Roaring Fork Valley — and beyond — came to the Babbish Gulch Trailhead to pick out and cut down their Christmas trees in the forest, but they stayed for tamales, champurrado, and music. Adults and children lapped a small hill on their sleds, and kids sat enraptured listening to a storybook reading of Smokey the Bear in Spanish.

Posadas are a Latin American Christmas tradition in celebration of the Christmas season. Practices vary regionally, but the primary focus is gathering as a community. At Mexico’s posadas, tamales and champurrado, a spiced take on hot chocolate, are staples.

And in its fourth year, the event is firmly planted as a beloved tradition. The 150 pre-registration slots for free tree-cutting permits filled quickly, but the Aspen-Sopris District representatives still sold the $10 permit to anyone else interested.

“I think once we mentioned that this is a family event, an event for making memories, that (resonated),” Defiende Director Omar Sarabia said. “That’s super important to the Latino community.”

Sarabia said that he hopes to expand the event in the future, offering even more free permits and potentially expanding beyond the Babbish Gulch Trailhead — one attendee drove from Edwards for the Posada.

Families with multiple generations attended, letting their kids pick out a tree and lugging it back to the car before gathering around the small fire pit for warm refreshments.

Soira Seja came from New Castle with her mom and 5-year-old son, Benjamin, to pick out a tree and visit with friends and neighbors. It was their posada tree-cutting event, but Seja said it would become a tradition for her family.

Seja is an avid hiker and backpacker but acknowledged that public land use in the Latino community is “definitely” lacking. But seeing so many people at the posada, picking up maps and seeing their kids hear the story of Smokey the Bear in Spanish, gave her hope.

“I think this event is a great experience,” she said. “I see a lot of Latino families here (at the posada).”

It was the first Posada for Iris Salamanca, the new DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Information Assistant for the White River National Forest. She also is a native Spanish speaker. At the posada, she walked attendees through the tree-cutting and tagging process in both English and Spanish. And she was the one to read the story of Smokey the Bear in Spanish.

Sarabia has always attended the posadas to meet Spanish speakers and inform them of the process, but this is the first year that a uniformed Forest Service worker could greet attendees and explain the tree-cutting process in Spanish.

The posada was a fun, engaging event that fits into her role’s larger goal of increasing minority, particularly Latino, visitorship to the Forest.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about why they enjoy the event and keep returning. And it’s good to know word is spreading about this event,” she said. “Being able to speak to people in Spanish (visibly) changes their comfort level.”

Growing up in a Latino household and community in Grand Junction, Salamanca said she witnessed firsthand the hesitancy to attend events or use public lands if her family anticipated a language barrier.

Hispanic-identifying people accounted for just 3.9% of visitors to White River National Forest in 2017, according to the most recent USDA Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring survey.

Without more recent data, it’s hard to know if that number has changed in the past six years. However, U.S. Census data estimates the Hispanic population in Garfield and Eagle counties is approximately 30% and 11% in Pitkin County. In the Roaring Fork School District, Hispanic students comprise more than half of the student body.

To work toward increased Latino visitorship, Defiende has partnered with the Forest to widely implement Spanish-language messaging. From trailhead signs to press releases, more and more content from the Forest is offered immediately in both English and Spanish. They also partner with the Forest for Latino Conservation Week.

Defiende unveiled their Camino Latino map, a bilingual map of public lands across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, this summer.

For the Forest’s part, getting families and community members out to the posada introduces first-time visitors to the concept that public lands are there for them.

“Even though it’s their backyard, sometimes it’s their first time up here,” said Aspen-Sopris Acting District Ranger Jennifer Schuller. “It’s the first step to future opportunities to use the forest.”
The Forest’s tree-cutting program runs through Dec. 31. Learn more about the program, purchase a permit, and find maps for tree-cutting locations at

Written by Josie Taris for The Aspen Times. 

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