Dominique Naccarato, director of GARNA, on growing up in Salida in the pre-Internet era, waves of change and a look into the 22nd century.
(Publication Date: 1.10.23)
Overview: In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, host Adam Williams talks with Dominique Naccarato, executive director of the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) and city council member in Salida, Colo.
Dominique’s story is Salida’s story, at least in part. She talks with Adam about growing up in Salida in the pre-Internet era and wanting to leave and never come back. And she did leave. And then she came back some years later and, ultimately, took on leadership roles that will have far-reaching influence on the future of her community and the generations to come.
Adam talks with Dominique about the personal and family story she has that is so deeply interwoven with the waves of change that have come to the area in the past 50 years.
They talk about Dominique’s vision as executive director of GARNA, with its mission to protect the natural environment in Chaffee County, Colo., and how she balances that with the critical issues of housing affordability in the area as a member of city council.
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
Greater Arkansas River Nature Association
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
Producer & We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Director of Chaffee Housing Authority: Becky Gray
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate,
minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams.
Today's guest is Dominique Naccarato, executive director of the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, or GARNA, and city council member in Salida, Colorado.
Dominique's story is a singular one, one that I describe in our conversation as unique, and I don't use that word often. In a conversation before the one we've recorded, she had said to me that her story is Salida's story, part of it anyway.
As we talk and peel back some layers on Dominique's story, I think that what she says is undoubtedly true. She grew up in Salida and like so many teenagers, maybe especially those of us who grew up in small rural towns in the pre-internet era, couldn't wait to leave. So, she did, but in time, she'd end up coming back and it's to the betterment of Salida and Chaffee County and beyond that she did.
(01:04): Dominique and I talk about her personal and family history in the area that is deeply interwoven with the waves of change that have come here in the last 50 years. We talk about how she came to leadership in GARNA and what the Nature Association is about.
We talk about her vision for GARNA and what will define success for the organization in the longer haul, like 50 or a hundred years down the line because politics in general makes me anxious these days. I asked Dominique why she decided to run for city council and how she balances her role there with her advocacy for public land stewardship. 82% of Chaffee County is designated as public land, which GARNA has a mission to protect.
(01:46): At the same time, the housing affordability crisis here is of critical importance. Dominique's professional and civic responsibilities place her at the intersection of those huge areas of concern. Unrelated, but definitely interesting is the fact that Dominique also has been active in roller derby and raft racing and guiding, and she also plays outdoor ice hockey, but we ran out of time to talk about that part. Here we go in an enlightening conversation with Dominique Naccarato.
[Transition music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: All right, Dominique, welcome to Looking Upstream.
Dominique Naccarato (02:27): Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Adam Williams (02:29): So, I am certain that we are going to get to talking about some of the professional hats you wear, some of the civic leadership roles you hold, but I really want to start with something that you had said to me in a previous conversation prior to hitting record here today. When you said, "My story is Salida's story in a way," that was really intriguing to me and I was curious to understand what does that mean?
Dominique Naccarato (02:52): Sure. Well, my story I would say is part of Salida's story, but I was born and raised here in Salida, in the mid '70s, and born right there in the Touber Building, upstairs of where I now attend city council meetings. So, I grew up here in Salida, lived in a few different places around town.
My dad liked to fix and flip houses, so we did move quite a bit, and then I actually left for about six months when I was 16 when my mom moved to Pueblo, Colorado, but then shortly thereafter, missed Salida a lot, came back and graduated from Salida High School in 1994. So, I just have some of the landscapes.
The town itself is imprinted on my being and when I left, when I was 18, I was never coming back. Really, really no plans to come back, lots of plans to go elsewhere, and that lasted for about a year before I started coming back to raft guide on the Arkansas River.
Adam Williams (04:12): Only for a year? Okay.
Dominique Naccarato (04:16): So, yeah, I didn't really think about this before, but I did start coming back in the summer times to raft guide. I tried to stay away for a year. I was raft guiding, once I turned 18, on the Animas River in Durango. That's where I did my training, but all my friends there from Fort Lewis in Durango wanted to come guide on the Arkansas. So, in my second year of raft guiding, I did come back for the summer and started guiding on the Arkansas.
Adam Williams (04:44): Okay. Was this during college? Was this a period when it was all about the river? What was going on at that point?
Dominique Naccarato (04:53): I was in college. I left when I left Salida. After graduating high school, I went to college at Fort Lewis down in Durango for two years, and in the summer times, I would be a raft guide.
Adam Williams (05:05): Okay, so ultimately, at some point here though, you would spend more years away. Is that right? Because I think you taught... Was it high school-
Dominique Naccarato (05:05): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (05:14): ... biology in the Colorado Springs area on the front range. So, a couple hours away or so. So, when that period of being away and that idea, that teen idea that's so common to so many of us, at least in America, to get out of a small town. I grew up in a small town.
You definitely want to go out and see more, do more, get away from whatever we thought was so boring. How long did you end up really being gone at that point when you were at least in the springs and teaching high school and whatever might've led to it?
Dominique Naccarato (05:47): Yeah, so it's gone for a total of about probably 13 or 14 years there after high school. Even when I went to Durango, I found that town to start to feel really small as well and too similar to Salida. Even a lot of people that I went to high school with were there in Durango and so I moved from there and went to the University of Colorado at Boulder for a few years, and let's see, after that, moved around a whole bunch.
I moved to Southern Colorado to Pagosa Springs, and then from there, down into New Mexico, from there up north of Montreal, which is my father land, and from there really missing Colorado, moved back to Colorado and lived in Colorado Springs.
Adam Williams (06:44): What was your feeling on Salida at that time? Was that, "Okay, I want to come back to Colorado, but I'm still not quite feeling the whole Salida. Let me set roots from the rest of my life," kind of thing? As an adult there. How were you feeling, I guess, in relationship to that, "I'm 18 and I really want to go elsewhere"?
Dominique Naccarato (07:05): Yeah, I think at that time, I still didn't realize that I was going to come back here and set down roots. Definitely wasn't thinking about setting down roots at all and I liked living in the city, and Colorado Springs is a small city, so it's easier to digest in that city way, but Salida had been so isolated when I was a kid.
Growing up here, there wasn't as much for kids to do then. We didn't have internet, so there was less connection to the outside world, and just like any rural town, it felt very isolated. So, while I think I started to appreciate the beauty of Salida and the Upper Arkansas Valley a lot more as an adult, I really think I took it for granted as a kid, as we do, but as an adult, I started to appreciate the beauty and the proximity to all the things that I love to do, to ski, to raft, to mountain bike. I didn't know that I was going to put down roots here.
Adam Williams (08:10): It's funny that at least now in my awareness of what this area is in Chaffee County, Colorado, Salida as a hub for that, for mountain biking, trail running. We've got ski, all these outdoor things, and especially the river. It draws people from all over.
People who, I'm sure, come here on vacation and they think, "Wow, how amazing it would be to live here," and I think that's probably a common experience in a sense that you as a teenager needed to see something else to really realize maybe what you had here.
Dominique Naccarato (08:49):
Yeah, absolutely. I think we did some mountain biking when I was a teenager, but we didn't have a whole lot of trails. A lot of times it would just be biking on rough dirt roads or following unofficial trails. So, it was a lot rougher then, but we had some great people from all over the world to lead the way on that.
Mike Rust was hired by my mom to teach us kids how to change a flat tire on our first mountain bikes. She was a single mom and my dad didn't mountain bike, so we needed somebody to teach us. She was tired of us having flat tires because it was rough out there. So, that's a pretty cool memory to have Mike Rust teach us how to change a flat.
Adam Williams (09:41): I just remember too, when you mentioned your dad, that back in that time, he was flipping houses and what immediately came to mind for me was that's such a popular thing, or it has become one, at least over recent years, and you've got all kinds of TV shows based on it, but I'm thinking that was pretty cool when he was doing it.
So, I wonder if you have given thought to that. What was that like as a kid to see him being able to do this work? But that is also, it sounds like, a self-employed entrepreneurial type of thing that has ultimately become popular.
Dominique Naccarato (10:18): Yeah. He is very much an entrepreneur and he still helps us with... We're building an ADU right now and he still comes and helps us with stuff, whether it's cutting tiles or installing countertops, but he also owned a plumbing business. So, he apprenticed for a couple of years when we were really young or before we were born under another plumber, and then he went out and started his own plumbing business.
So, I think through that, he has gained enough knowledge to see that flipping houses could be... I don't know. I'll have to ask him whether it was just that the state of the house drove him crazy enough that he had to fix it or if it was enough of a money... I think it was enough of a money-making venture to allow us to probably move into bigger houses because there were three of us kids at that time.
Adam Williams (11:14): It sounds like a smart visionary kind of thing at the time.
Dominique Naccarato (11:18): Absolutely. Yep. Yep.
Adam Williams (11:19): Well, that's cool. So, if we go back to the change that you're talking about things, or at least I was thinking of the word change because you're talking about things that were not here when you were a kid. Well, I now know graduated high school in the same year.
So, we are of comparable timing, and when we came into internet, how all these things came to be and where connection came from. Again, I grew up in a small town. It was in Missouri and so our access to such things and to that form of connection certainly was... It's very different now.
I think that especially since you have come back and you can tell me how many years ago that was, you have witnessed an awful lot of change here just in your time and your experience having grown up, left, come back, and I wonder if you could speak more to what some of those changes are, the noteworthy ones that stand out, things that you maybe see as positive, or if there's some that aren't so much, what your thoughts on that as someone who has spent many years here what those are.
Dominique Naccarato (12:25): Well, I remember being just starving from music when we were kids, and we would have to get our music by going to the city for a while there. We would always go to Independent Records in Colorado Springs or Pueblo and that was before.
Dave Ward then eventually started a record store downtown, which was awesome, and he could order... We could always watch MTV, but we couldn't go get the music. So, I just remember being a kid and pressing that record button when your song would come on the radio and it was 99.9, The Magic out of Colorado Springs, I think, when I was trying to record some Bon Jovi in fifth grade.
(13:14): So, I remember being just starved for that kind of connectivity with the world. I mentioned the mountain bike trails, and I think that's been a huge positive change for our community. Of course, it's an economic driver, but I think just as far as giving kids something to do here. We've got a mountain bike team. Now, we didn't have that when I was a kid. We didn't actually even have a girl's soccer team. So, when I aged out of... I had to age out of soccer in middle school because we were no longer allowed to play with the boys and there was no girls team.
Adam Williams (14:00): Okay, and now there is.
Dominique Naccarato (14:04): Now there is. Yeah. That started shortly after, I think, I graduated high school. They started a girls soccer team.
Adam Williams (14:13): Okay. Isn't that the way it goes?
Dominique Naccarato (14:15): Yeah.
Adam Williams (14:15): I had some of that as well. That's like, "Oh, well, we have a gap here where you don't get to play." In my case, a primary sport was basketball, and it's like, "Well, we're missing this for these grades," but as soon as we go through, and it probably was our parents who were motivated to say, "Hey, this is missing," and then there's kids who come along.
Dominique Naccarato (14:31): I know Title IX existed.
Adam Williams (14:33): Yeah, I'm sure it did by then.
Dominique Naccarato (14:35): Yeah, it had to. So, I'm not sure why. I guess somebody finally pushed hard enough to get that girls soccer team. I did grow up ski racing at Monarch. So, I did that until middle school and that was a huge impact on my life. Just a lot of people that I still know today who will ski race in the town challenge.
We had an excellent ski coach, Bill Gooch, who was... Everybody knows him in the ski racing world. We were really lucky to have him. I had a racer who raced with us, Justin Yarmark who went on to ski race for the US Olympic team.
Adam Williams (15:21): Okay. Wow.
Dominique Naccarato (15:22): Yeah, so we had quite a program here at that time and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.
Adam Williams (15:28): I want to ask you about music because it seems like that really spoke to you. There was something that you were drawn to in that you really were hungry to go find that where you could get it and I wonder if you've thought about what it was or if it still is about music that just really connects and lands for you.
Dominique Naccarato (15:55): Well, I think some of it probably comes from my parents. They were big music lovers and they were a part of the hippie movement that came with the hippie wave here in the '70s.
So, I definitely learned a lot about music from both of them, and then one of my oldest friend's parents, her name's Kaylynn Steves and her parents, Kathy and Eric, just had this ginormous record collection and they were actually friends with the owner of Independent Records and just taught us so much about music. Everything from blues to garage rock to punk rock, you name it.
Adam Williams (16:40): Did you play anything, any instruments or sing or participate in that way?
Dominique Naccarato (16:45): I did. I played piano and had a really great piano teacher, and I took singing lessons, but you wouldn't want me to sing in public. I'll sing in private.
Adam Williams (17:04): All right. When we talk about change, so your parents moved here with the hippie movement. First of all, that sounds really interesting to me, and I'm not aware of if you're meaning a hippie movement that is particular to this area. Was this, one, an area that drew people?
Dominique Naccarato (17:20): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (17:20): But along with your parents having come during that time, I wonder if you've heard their stories. Just like what you're sharing here, "Well, this is what I've seen in my time.
We didn't have a soccer team when I was of a certain age." What might some of those stories have been that you heard that your parent's like, "Well, it used to be this way and this is what we've gained or this is what we've lost," if that's a perspective?
Dominique Naccarato (17:44): Well, I think my mom cannot say anything else when she comes here to visit. There's just so many changes. There's so many changes, but they were part of that change then. There was this wave of hippies and artists that they were part of a circle that was really active here in the '70s. Artists that moved here for the quiet way of life or the beauty of the area or just because they could do their art here.
So, my parents landed without... My parents had been traveling around. They met on a tobacco farm in Ontario and they were both just being migrant farm workers and from there, they had gone down to Florida to pick oranges, and in Florida, they met family named the Fernazies who were moving here to build a house and a homestead on Poncho Pass to live off the fat of the land there. So, they heard about this place from the Fernazies and soon came to check it out and that's how they landed here.
Adam Williams (19:01): I'm curious. I think I'm always curious about history and about where things have come from, and especially when we think about say the cost of life, especially say a house in today's time, and I actually say that. I mean, setting aside what we consider a housing affordability crisis here and in mountain towns and plenty of places these days, I think of that when you hear stories about Aspen and you look at what it's become, but it used to be fairly sleepy and quiet, and I'm sure unbelievably more affordable.
Did your parents happen to have any of those stories of... Was this a story of, "Hey, land was cheap and we were able to do this and live with this level of lifestyle that we could be artists and farmers and just love life"? Or what was that kind of angle on their story if you know it?
Dominique Naccarato (19:54): Yeah. I mean, they had the foresight to buy a house I think when they started having children. Then they realized they needed to purchase a house and they bought their first house on F Street for like $30,000. So, it's just incredible to me and that was the first house that my dad remodeled or that they remodeled and flipped together.
So, I think this is the interesting part. They both sold their last house here and now can't afford to move back. So, when they look at that house on F Street, it's just astounding how much it would be worth today.
Adam Williams (20:44): Yeah, I'm sure many multiples on the market, and we'll move on here from your parents' story in a second, but I'm curious. Then, okay, they don't live here.
Dominique Naccarato (20:55): Mm-mm.
Adam Williams (20:55): Are they out of the area now?
Dominique Naccarato (20:57): They both live in Pueblo now.
Adam Williams (20:58): Okay.
Dominique Naccarato (21:00): Let's see. They had divorced when I was about 12. My dad remarried not long after, and that's an interesting part of the story too. My stepmom's family had some deep, deep roots here in the area. My step-grandfather had worked at Climax mine when it closed and lost his job in the '80s, but let's see.
So, my mom moved to Pueblo when I was 16. Sold her last house here in Salida then and moved to Pueblo. She was scared to hold onto it and of course now wishes she had, but at the time, she needed to purchase another house in Pueblo and at that time, nobody saw what was coming. We had just been through a very depressed period in this town. So, it was a little bit risky to hold onto a house here.
(21:56): So, she moved to Pueblo. My dad stayed here for about another 10 years before he and my stepmom, and then my two younger sisters from his second marriage, they moved to Ohio. They have since divorced and my dad moved back to Colorado and he moved to Pueblo and now he rents a house from my mom's boyfriend. So, we're back to being one big happy family.
Adam Williams (22:25): Okay. We're talking about change. Change is interesting to me because, like I said, I'm always interested in learning about history. I'm curious. In these conversations, a lot of what we talk about is change that we all go through in our lives. I talk about things related to shaping factors and influences in our lives and how we transform as people.
To me, that concept change is despite the expression that death and taxes are the only certainties, I feel like depending on if you have lawyers who are willing to help you evade taxes, that's not a certainty. If you have a faith belief system that doesn't believe that we're going to die, you might be reincarnated. Well, okay, now that's not a certainty.
(23:08): The one certainty in my mind is change and I think that's extremely difficult for an awful lot of people to get okay with. So, my question to you is how do you feel about all this change, especially given your roles, which we'll talk about soon?
As executive director of GARNA, as city council member, and the stories you've already shared including change, are you someone who is comfortable with that? Is it scary and just how do you look at it and face it?
Dominique Naccarato (23:41): Well, I talked about my parents coming with the hippie wave of the '70s and so we at one point were part of the change coming to this town. Even though now, when I say that I was born and raised here, people kind of... It's not that common, but they were this wave of change in the '70s and I've learned about that through my husband's family and his aunt Karen and others who talk about that change happening in the '70s and what that looked like.
So, I think I'm very open to change. When I moved back here and started becoming involved with some community stuff, I realized what a positive effect things like community gathering places has on our community as far as developing community resilience, and we didn't have very many community gathering places.
(24:43): When I was a kid, we would go out to the Poncho truck stop to hang out as teenagers. There was like the coffee klatch over at Stop & Save. There was of course a sprinkling of restaurants here, but there weren't a lot of places, maybe outside churches, things like that for the community to together. It wasn't until after I graduated high school that they started to renovate the Steam Plant Theater.
There's the Monarch Spur Trail, which an organization called Salida Parks Open Space & Trails rehabbed into a trail. It used to be the train tracks when I was a kid and that trail is such a huge community gathering place. It provides connectivity to the different ends of the community and there's so many people using it on any day at any given time. So, things like that make our community more resilient.
Adam Williams (25:46): I acknowledge that I am part of the current wave or more recent wave of change, me and my family. We're aware of this and in our household and there's a sensitivity to the fact that there are people here who are generations deep in this experience and they might have differing views than we do.
We look at the positives. I live in Buena Vista. We look at the positives of things like restaurant culture that's here that surely would not have been and still blows my mind that among other things that are in such small towns, because I grew up in a town similar in size to Salida.
We had nothing, and I'm going to guess, I think fairly confidently here, that if I went back to that town, and it's been many years, but the town where I grew up in Missouri, it still has relatively nothing.
(26:37): It is not like BV. It is not like Salida. I look at all that change as a positive while trying to be sensitive to how others might feel about it, but we are part of that wave of change and what I see is the future of what's developing here because change again is inevitable, right?
Dominique Naccarato (26:58): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (26:59): Let's talk about your role with GARNA. I'm going to ask you to spell out that acronym for us. Tell us what it's about, what the mission and focus is organizationally, but maybe for you as executive director, how you personally... I don't know if you can really make a distinction between those two things, but how you personally view that role and opportunity in this area. What it's for.
Dominique Naccarato (27:22): Well, I would say, yeah, going back to your previous comments, just building on that acceptance of change. GARNA didn't exist until 1996, so just shortly after I was out of here, out of high school. GARNA stands for Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, and it was started in partnership with the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which is now one of our state parks.
So, there was a need for river management. The rafting industry was growing. There was a desire to turn it into the state park and GARNA was started to be the educational partner to that state park or the friends of group to the state park.
So, we're about 26, almost 27 years old now and we are also in partnership now with the US Forest Service, Salida Ranger District, and the Bureau of Land Management, pretty early on saw the benefit of GARNA being a friends group to those federal land agencies too.
(28:32): So, really focused on the mission, education and experiences on public lands with the idea that people who gain a sense of place about where they live will choose to steward it and take care of it. So, we work to really inspire that in both new people to the valley as well as those who have been here for a long time and visitors too, even those who don't live here, but come to visit, just trying to help people understand the natural resources of the Upper Arkansas Valley.
Adam Williams (29:12): You, I think, if I understand correctly, moved back out here to Salida. After that, I think you said 13, 14 years or so away, ultimately, you had been a high school biology teacher in Colorado Springs. Was this the first step back in terms of professionally and what your role was? Was it with GARNA or-
Dominique Naccarato (29:29): No.
Adam Williams (29:30): Okay. How did you come to then become the leader of what this association is about?
Dominique Naccarato (29:39): So, really, I thought that I would get a teaching job right away when I moved back to Salida and it turns out it's really competitive to get a teaching job here. So, I had been teaching high school science, mostly biology, but some geology and earth science at a school in Colorado Springs.
I really loved teaching those subjects because of those subjects. I got to teach environmental biology and environmental science too, and yeah, I thought I would move back to Salida and get a teaching job right away, no problem, and it just wasn't happening, but I still managed to find a couple of jobs and have some fun and I went to work at the ski area in the retail shop up at Monarch and I stayed up there for a few years and that was awesome, and in the summertime, I worked for Ron Ferris at Riverboat Works.
(30:34): So, I got to still talk story about rafting and make rafting part of my life through by doing that, and then I had a child and was getting ready to go back to work when she was about 18 months old or so and I saw this position open at GARNA, which I didn't even really know what GARNA did. I'll be honest.
Philanthropy was not on my mind at that time and so I didn't even really know what GARNA did, but they were hiring for VISTA, which is an AmeriCorps position. It's a Volunteers in Service to America, and it sounded like I got to teach environmental science and not have to grade papers and stuff. So, it sounded perfect.
Adam Williams (31:28): Okay. What then was the transition from that role to... I mean, again, eventually, you ended up where you are, which is as executive director and leading the way here.
Dominique Naccarato (31:40): So, really, just recognizing that I had landed in an awesome place and with an awesome community that GARNA community and a possible career path. That was different from what I thought it was going to be with teaching and hustling with the executive director then to get enough funding to hire me as the second staff person. So, our VISTA term was three years. I was the last of three VISTAs. That was managing the youth program. So, we got enough funding to hire me onto staff.
Adam Williams (32:21): Great. That's been how many years now?
Dominique Naccarato (32:25): I started in 2013, so hired onto staff in 2014, and then that same year, because I had been thinking about a master's degree, I didn't know what I should do.
I didn't want to get a master's in teaching if I couldn't get a teaching job, and then this master's degree at Western Colorado University popped up, a master's in environmental management, which was just so integrated with my work at GARNA. So, I jumped on the chance to do that and then spent the next two years earning my master's degree while working at gar.
Adam Williams (33:02): So, it sounds like when you made that decision then that you had some long-term vision for yourself in the relationship with GARNA.
Dominique Naccarato (33:09): Yeah. I mean, I started to. I didn't see that coming, but once I found GARNA and environmental management and just the scope and breadth of what we could do there, I knew what I wanted to do.
Adam Williams (33:24): With that idea of vision in mind then, I'm curious. From where you are now, several years in, again leading this way, what do you see as maybe one or two or three of the priorities... if not of the moment, maybe it's longer term. Maybe it's more like 5, 10, 20 years. Whatever you see as a bigger vision for what you would like to see accomplished through GARNA.
Dominique Naccarato (33:51): Well, we're always focus on environmental education because there's always going to be a need for that and we are the partner for that filling that gap and because there's a constant influx of new people to the Valley who need to be educated about everything from how ranches and ditches and things like that work and maintain our valley bottom open space and how they're connected to wildlife to what's that mushroom out there in the mountains and what's that wildflower.
So, I think that's ongoing. We have some big county sustainability issues that we're working on. The county is writing a sustainability plan. So, we're really excited to be a part of that and help advance things like energy efficiency, and waste diversion is a big one that we've been working on for a while, but there's still a lot of work to do as far as infrastructure for diverting more waste in Chaffee County.
(35:07): And then I'd say the third thing is really our equity work and because we want everybody to have access to our public lands because that's voters that are going to help conserve, preserve, and steward our public lands. We're really working on access issues, making sure that everybody that lives here, but also visitors from other places get to access those public lands too.
Adam Williams (35:38): Can I ask you to elaborate on that a little bit?
Dominique Naccarato (35:38): Sure.
Adam Williams (35:41): When you say equity access, what do those words really mean in terms of practice and what that looks like in being able to get more people out there?
Dominique Naccarato (35:50): Sure. Well, in many ways, our public lands or the activities that we do on them can be exclusive. We learned through a survey effort several years ago with county public health that even people, and kids especially residing here in Chaffee County, do not have a way to access public lands.
There are areas of unincorporated Chaffee County where there's not even a park for kids to play in, but they're staring out at the Collegiate Peaks or at Browns Canyon National Monument and they can see it, but they're inadvertently told, "It's not there for you.
You can't access it," and it might be something that their parents are working multiple jobs in order to afford to live here and so their parents don't have time to drive them somewhere, or there's not knowledge within that household about the activities that you can do there, or is it safe even to be there? Or-
Adam Williams (36:55): Just the ways to engage, I think it sounds like, right?
Dominique Naccarato (36:56): Yeah. Ways to engage. Yep. So, since that study in 2016, we've been working on ways to create access for both visitors and that residential population that we know has barriers to access.
Adam Williams (37:13): Okay. Building off of this, I want to ask you about the idea of success and what that looks like to you when we're saying maybe that's 20 years or 50 years down the road. This is well past... It's no longer your hands on it. It's someone else or maybe generations of someone else later.
Because with land, we're really talking long-term. With development of community, we're talking really long term, and I think sometimes we forget about some of those things as a general public. So, what might success look like to you? I'll even extend it to 100 years. 20, 50, 100 years, what is a mark of success related to GARNA's vision and mission?
Dominique Naccarato (37:59): I would say that it's maintained our 82% public lands here in the Upper Arkansas Valley to start with because we'll probably touch on how we straddle the line to housing issues with that, but I would say we've maintained that the wildlife populations that depend on that habitat connectivity are thriving. Everybody has access to safe outdoor recreation, whether it's valley bottom at appropriate times of the year.
Again, thinking about the wildlife, or being able to access national forests, and higher up at other times of year, wilderness areas are accessible to everybody, and then maybe there is some indigenous or cross-cultural Native American co-management whether it's with public lands or private lands, but we have opened the door wider for participation from people whose this was their ancestral homelands.
Adam Williams (39:18):
Okay. Great. You did touch on then the housing affordability issue because that is something that, again, in previous thoughts that you and I had shared, this is clearly a concern in this area and you are a member of city council in Salida. So, I'm curious.
Well, let's just tackle the city council part first because to be really candid with you, I think the idea of myself participating in anything related to politics at any level, including at city, is an incredibly intimidating idea. I wonder why did you look at that as a path to leadership in the area that...
Why did that appeal to you? Why did you want to put your energy there along with GARNA as opposed to just say, well, here with the association. I'm just going to focus here because then I'm not as under fire as if I'm sitting on city council all the time.
Dominique Naccarato (40:20): Yeah, well, I think I saw the potential for some synergy there. I mean, really, it really came from one of my professors in that master's program when I was being shy and shrinking in a corner. I ended up doing a master's project on expanded public transportation here in the upper Arkansas Valley.
That actually stemmed from a trail project that just morphed into a giant public transportation project. I was looking at trail restoration, and then all of a sudden, I was working on public transportation. So, I guess I realized an interest in that level of really climate mitigation and adaptation and community resilience, and I had this professor who I said... Oh, I'm just obnoxiously talking about transit again, and he said, "Nobody ever accomplished anything by shrinking in a corner. So, just keep that in mind."
(41:28): So, that encouraged me to just keep talking about these things, and when we're preserving 82% of our valley's lands as public lands, you have to look at the flip side of that coin, which is housing or the current lack thereof of housing. First of all, public lands of course draw people in and make people want to live here. So, there's this big influx of people and a lack of housing inventory and on the other side, we're squeezing that balloon from those public lands that we want to preserve. That's not land that we can develop for housing, although it certainly gets used for housing in the summer time. So, it seemed like it wasn't fair really to just address public land's stewardship and not also work on the housing issue, which was starting to become apparent. It was more than an issue. It's a crisis really.
Adam Williams (42:31): So, I look at all of this story of yours and just, to me, it feels truly unique, and I tend not to use that word. I think it gets overused, but you truly have a unique perspective here. There's only one executive director of GARNA. There's only one GARNA. There's the city council that you're also a member of. So, you're not trying to stay in isolation and say, "No, I'm an advocate and even activist on behalf of nature. How dare you touch it?"
You're looking at how these fit together. So, I just wonder, putting that unique perspective along with your history here, which I think wonderfully includes your having gone away for a number of years because I think that contributes to what your appreciation of it is and what your understanding in a bigger context of all this is.
(43:25): So, I guess the question there is just how do you take that unique perspective and what do you envision for how to balance housing crisis, true need, and all the ripple effects of that? That's not just about housing. That's about who can be employed here, who can live here, who can sustain businesses here because they can afford to live like the big cobweb of all that with protecting 82% and the vision you shared earlier of what you'd like to see in 50 and 100 years.
Dominique Naccarato (43:58): Yeah, I mean, I really appreciate being able to look at the whole system. So, trying to get up to 30,000 feet and see the system, how everything is going to work together. We might address housing through density, because there's only so much land to work with and density is really one of the only ways we're going to address it, but that also addresses efficiency. If we're building houses closer together, that means we're using less concrete and steel, which make up 16% of our world's greenhouse gas emissions.
So, there's a lot of opportunity, I think, within each little part of the system and opportunity. There's so many creative people out there working on this issue. We thought a ballot initiative for property taxes to support ballot initiative 6A would be the answer and to fund the housing authority and it got pretty crushed at the voter box this fall. So, we just have to pick up and look at another way. The voters told us they don't want that. So-
Adam Williams (45:16): Can I speak to that as a voter?
Dominique Naccarato (45:18): Sure.
Adam Williams (45:19): Because when my wife and I were looking at the ballot for that now, because of my role here with Looking Upstream, and it is a podcast and show supported by the Chaffee Housing Authority in part, so, I was aware of this issue and what was at stake and what was actually on the ballot.
But as a voter, there wasn't explanation in the booklet that comes to explain other things, which made me wonder about the education level of people to even understand what it was about, and then as a voter, an educated voter, meaning, my wife and I talk about this every time we have an election and we both have master's degrees and we're sitting here saying, "I don't understand the language being used," because this is how all ballots work. Why is that? We didn't even know what it was about.
(46:12): Had I not known what it was, we wouldn't have known which way we wanted to vote, is my point. How do we address that? I know there were legalities around that. I know that's not just a failure of communication.
Part of that at least is in requirements of, well, we couldn't get out there and champion this thing. How do we address that? How do we get people to understand what was at stake when the vehicles used for that weren't allowed to get voters informed?
Dominique Naccarato (46:37): Yeah, it was my first ballot initiative. For the issues committee, I think the first ballot initiative for a lot of people on the issues committee, which is the committee charged with promoting the ballot initiative because the housing authority could not, and the only reason I could participate is because I'm an elected official.
I mean, I think we do it by talking about it right now and in hopes of better educating people for the next time this comes around. I think a lot of people don't realize the level of crisis that we're in with housing. So, just continuing to educate, as you're doing through your show, and as we do through other storytelling efforts about...
I hear it every time I go to city council. I hear about the housing crisis and I hear about it from people who are housing insecure or losing their housing.
(47:36): So, if you're in the school district and working in the school district, you see it every day. I think the last time I checked, there was 92 kids in our school district who were without housing.
Adam Williams (47:36): Wow.
Dominique Naccarato (47:49): So, if you're not in the school district or you're not hearing these things in city council, you might be blissfully unaware until the restaurants that you like to frequent, all those great restaurants that we have the choice of going to now because of that change, until those start to close, because they can't hire staff because there's not enough people with housing who can... You know?
Adam Williams (48:14): Which is already an issue and I had talked with Rob and Sarah Gartzman on this podcast. They own The Biker & The Baker. They own Sweetie's Sandwich Shop, and that was explicitly something we got into as well in that conversation was they can post a job opening for someone to work at one of their restaurants and it can sit for three months and not have anyone apply, and it's not because there aren't people here to do the work necessarily in terms of an interest in work.
It's because there aren't people here because they can't afford to be here. So, yes, crisis level for this. There are domino effects that, again, you have a singular view to, I think, through the different professional hats you're wearing that really fascinates me.
Dominique Naccarato (49:02): And I think just looking at the whole picture through my city council position, I also serve on the housing authority board. So, we're working on creative solutions there. I know people like the Gartzman coming up with their own innovative solutions and I'm just so thankful for all the innovative and creative people in this town.
We had talked about how my parents moved here in the '70s and we felt like outsiders here. For a long time, I have the pleasure now of speaking to my husband's family who goes back here five generations. So, to those people, we were the outsiders. So, I had that perspective of not feeling like I was necessarily an integral part of this community.
(49:58): Then I look at new people coming here and I think the same thing. Everybody has a right to be here is my point. I heard somebody say that last week at a conference, so I'm going to repeat it. Everybody has a right to be here. This was a conference about indigenous peoples and Native American heritage, but we're all here now.
We have a right to be here now what are you going to do with it? That's my question for people. So, thank goodness for all the innovative, creative and caring people in this community who are working on this issue.
Adam Williams (50:34): I'm going to shift gears with you here and let's just ask, and I want to learn about your interests. Outside of all this work, outside of these bigger topics, you've mentioned rafting, and you are still engaged with rafting, I think, in masters women's raft racing?
Dominique Naccarato (50:55): Oh, yeah. I haven't been able to participate with that since I joined city council, so it's been a little over a year, but I did have the pleasure of practicing raft racing with the team, which is funny because rafts are notoriously slow, moving on the water, and so we paddle really hard and try to make them go fast.
Adam Williams (51:19): Well, I'm really interested in that experience. I actually have only been on the water once on the raft. It's something that I did with my family. A couple summers ago for at the time, our nine-year-old's birthday, he wanted to do it.
Tell me about the experience of getting out there with skill and everything that goes into that racing aspect. It sounds like there's some danger, but I know from when I was out there, I loved when the rapids would splash up on us and it was cold and awesome and I definitely want to do it again.
Dominique Naccarato (51:59):
Yeah, it's a blast and I've been rafting for a very long time now since I became a raft guide, but I would say in my more recent years... We have an oar frame. So, I'm usually rowing the boat, especially as my child was growing up. Just the oar boat is the way to go.
My husband when we started dating got me into fly fishing and so I was rowing. We were doing a lot of rowing for fishing. So, the raft team was a different way to get on the water and get back to paddling, and you have to paddle in really, really tight sync with your team in order to make happen what you need to have happen out there when you're racing.
(52:44): So, unfortunately, the team has had one barrier after the next to competing. We were supposed to go to China in 2020 and that got canceled by the pandemic, and then I wasn't actively practicing with the team anymore, but they were supposed to go to Bosnia last spring, and then the war between Russia and Ukraine started and they decided not to go. There is a raft team, the Red Ladies, which is the open, more competitive team or younger team who did go to Bosnia and did awesome and we had the pleasure of learning a lot from them, and then they were supposed to go to the national competition at the end of the summer in California and there was a forest fire.
Adam Williams (53:34): Wow. Okay.
Dominique Naccarato (53:35): So, just been one thing, but I think the teamwork, the team aspect of it is one of the things I liked the most.
Adam Williams (53:43): Okay. Let's move to another team and in your activity history here that I'm also really curious about, roller derby. That is something that I've watched. I've never tried to be part of it, but I've loved the characters that the athletes come up with. I wonder if you had a character, a name, some sort of persona you were trying to put out there in competition. What was that?
Dominique Naccarato (54:11): So, as you can imagine, having the systems level view can sometimes produce a lot of angst. So, roller derby is a great way to release that kind of angst and I played roller derby for 10 years. I took about a year off when I was pregnant with my daughter. They call that the nine-month injury and my roller derby name was Pagama Honey Guns because Poga Mahone was already taken. Pogama Mahone was the name of my grandfather's boat on Lake Michigan and also I'm not sure if I'm allowed to swear on this show, but-
Adam Williams (54:47): Yeah, go for it.
Dominique Naccarato (54:48): It means kiss my ass in Gaelic.
Adam Williams (54:48): Okay.
Dominique Naccarato (54:50): Pogue Mahone. So, that name was already taken. There is a name registry in roller derby, so you can't take somebody else's roller derby name. So, I went with Pogue Mahoney Guns, and Guns for short, and some people around town still refer to me by that name.
Adam Williams (55:11): Do your kids ask why? If somebody comes up to you in the grocery store or on the sidewalk and says, "What's up, Guns?"
Dominique Naccarato (55:16): Yeah.
Adam Williams (55:16): You're like, "I've got something to tell here."
Dominique Naccarato (55:18): They know that, they're young, that my daughter knows this. She's “Young Guns.”
Adam Williams (55:22): Okay. That's funny.
Dominique Naccarato (55:24): Yeah, because she had been part of that roller derby community since she was born because I couldn't wait to get back to roller derby and play again. So, it's more than a team.
It's a huge community and honestly, like one of my first serious forays into volunteerism and community organizing, community building was what I learned through that roller derby team, how to start a nonprofit. We had a leader who had moved here from a Denver roller derby team, so she was really in the know and just an amazing group of women.
Adam Williams (56:04): Then I want to thank you for everything that you've shared here, Dominique. Again, I think such a singular perspective. It's wonderful to sit down and get to learn from you and I want to thank you for all your work on behalf of all of us who live here in this environment and live with this 82% of land that we hope to preserve and protect and also for the issues that are facing us as we develop as towns and county. So, thank you very much.
Dominique Naccarato (56:28): Thank you so much. It's my privilege to be here and to serve.
[Outro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams (56:37): All right. That was my conversation with Dominique Naccarato. If what she shared here today sparked curiosity and thoughts for you, you can email comments to Lisa Martin, one of our producers, at LMartin@chaffeecounty.org.
We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to share the Looking Upstream podcast with others on your social media pages and by word of mouth and help us to grow the good. Be part of the light the world needs.
Once again, I'm your host, Adam Williams. John Prey is engineer and producer. Thank you to Kayhan Radio where we recorded today's conversation in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Lisa Martin, producer and community advocacy coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Initiative, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Becky Gray, director of the Chaffee Housing Authority.
(57:29): The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority and is supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.
You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee.
Lastly, thank you for listening, and until next time, as we say here at We Chaffee, be human. Share stories.