Bill Dvorak - Browns Canyon Cowboy
Written by Cecilia LaFrance
“I have a soft spot for wild places and keeping them as natural as possible,” said 72-year-old Bill Dvorak. Growing up on a ranch in northern Wyoming, hunting and fishing his whole life, Dvorak comes naturally to his conservation values. His love for the land and advocacy to protect it live on in the legacy of those he’s taught and in the latest chapters of Chaffee County history.
For 38 years, Dvorak and his wife Jaci have owned and operated Dvorak Expeditions, located along Highway 285 in Nathrop, CO. He’s escorted thousands of people through river ecosystems throughout Colorado, logging 70,000 river miles in his lifetime. In previous work, Dvorak set up an outdoor experiential learning program in Australia, taught through Outward Bound, and worked for the National Wildlife Federation.
Several organizations have named Dvorak as Conservationist of the Year, the awards on display within his home. But, one honor stands out as a grand environmental achievement. Alongside a photo of Dvorak and President Barak Obama locked in firm handshake, a three-paneled framed copy of the Establishment of the Browns Canyon National Monument Presidential Proclamation dominates the wall. Signed in 2015, the designation resulted from years of effort on the part of Dvorak, the Friends of Browns Canyon and other supporters.
“The biggest thing for me is the river,” Dvorak said of the Monument’s protection through a combination of designation as Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management property. Beyond the importance of the water and riparian, the area serves as calving grounds for big horn sheep, a migratory route for elk, and home for mountain lion, bobcat, deer and bear. “And we just keep pushing them further and further away.”
The original goal to achieve 180,000 acres as a wilderness area saw little chance at success, Dvorak said. Instead, with the cooperation of Senator Mark Udall, Dvorak made seven trips to Washington D.C. to sell the conservation agenda as a National Monument. There he met with Obama Administration officials to educate them on the need. “He knew nothing about wilderness; he’s a city boy,” Dvorak playfully jabbed at the former president. In return, Dvorak came back to Chaffee County to work on the public support the administration requested.
Amid ranching and mining opposition, the public meetings and an “I Support Brown’s Canyon” campaign achieved the local buy-in Obama needed. Now, 21,586 acres are protected. “We got what we could.” Dvorak received a President’s Award for Citizen Advocacy in 2015. The red and brown granite formations of Brown’s Canyon stand undisturbed as the greater testament to his work.