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Humans of Natural Areas#

Taj Mumma#

Taj Mumma, avid naturalist and a member of Fort Collins’ ROOTS program

Taj Mumma is an avid naturalist and a member of Fort Collins’ ROOTS program. Although only 16-years-old, he knows an impressive amount about a wide range of wildlife, from insects to reptiles. But maybe what’s most inspiring about him is his knack for finding remarkable animals in everyday places. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What was your first cool wildlife experience after moving to Fort Collins?

I think catching bullsnakes. I caught my first bullsnake here, so that was really cool. It was at Lory State Park, and I caught one at Coyote Ridge. And I just catch them with my hands. The first one was really calm, it was like had been held before. But all the other ones I caught they get a little aggressive but after a little while of holding them they just calm down. And then I just let them go.

What do you usually do at Fort Collins Natural Areas?

Well, I almost always bring my net over to catch things. It’s a fish net, but you can use it for basically anything. 

When do you usually do that?

During the summer and when we have online school, I just go there to take a break. Sometimes after school. I just think sometimes after a hard day or like, after getting mad, sometimes it’s just fun to watch animals and fish or birds.

Do you usually go with people or by yourself?

There are some natural areas which I can bike to by myself. Tanglewood, Red Fox Meadows, and Pineridge. Sometimes I go with my parents, and rarely, but sometimes with friends. A lot of teens these days don’t really like to get out. I think with all the internet stuff, lots of games like Fortnite, they want to play online with their friends.

What are some cool things you’ve found in the natural areas?

Up at Soapstone Natural Area my sister caught a short-horned lizard and I’d never seen one of those before. It was really cool. It was a baby. I’ve never seen one since.

There’s topminnows, which I’d never seen before. I think they’re Great Plains Topminnows and they’re really pretty fish. I’ve caught those before. They’re kinda hard. They’re really fast so you gotta swipe really fast with a net. I’ve only seen two places where I can find them. I looked them up and they’re kinda rare and kinda endangered.

I think there’s a lot of diverse insects here that I like finding too. I’ve found isopods and I have a little tub where I keep them and some snails that I’ve found. I’m trying to make a little ecosystem of the forest floor.

I do night hikes sometimes. I’ve seen toads, a mother wolf spider carrying babies on her back. I’ve seen snakes sometimes. You hear owls. I think it’s definitely an experience more people should do.

Do you do anything to help the natural areas?

If kids are doing something they shouldn’t with animals I tell them not to. I sometimes pick up trash with my family sometimes. I volunteer to plant trees and bushes in different natural areas. 

Do you think you’ll do anything with nature after high school?

I think I want to do herpetology or entomology. I’ve also been looking a bit into ichthyology and that’s interesting too. I really like keeping reptiles, and insects are really interesting. I remember when I was little I’d like finding them and taking care of them for a little while. Finding different species and looking up things about them. I have tons of books from when I was little about animals and insects. One is an animal encyclopedia and it’s all torn up now because I looked at it so much. 

This article was written and photographed by Evan Barrientos, a photographer, videographer, writer, naturalist, and conservationist living in Fort Collins. You can follow his work at @evanbarrientosphotography and

Willie Altenburg#

Willie Altenburg, owner and operator of the Super Baldy Ranch
and President of the Folsom Grazing Association

"People have said to us that we have a beautiful ranch (at Soapstone Prairie), that we’ve taken good care of it, so I always ponder why anyone would want us to change. We took care of the butterfly plant, for example. The land is healthy for the deer and the elk too, with what we do. The old timers when we first got her were always mindful of doing things right even before the city had the land. It’s getting harder to maintain agriculture locally. To me it’s valuable, it’s fragile, and we greatly need to value the agriculture community because sure, this is Open Space, but the grazing operations also allow northern Larimer County to maintain Open Space in the winter. The people of the county need to value agriculture, and by this, I mean they need to leave room and make more room for it to happen.  We’re in this together."

Chris Sugai#

Chris Sugai, President of Niner Bikes,
member of the International Mountain Biking Association,
and board member of Bike Fort Collins

“I’ve been blessed with being able to travel across the United States for events and dealer tours, and even worldwide, and Fort Collins is a unique space – it is one of the most bike friendly cities I’ve ever visited in the US. And my dream is to see Fort Collins become the Amsterdam of the US:  I’d love to see 60-70% of kids riding bikes to school, and parents to run errands or do the work commute on bikes, via riding a car solo, parking garages just for bicycles, streets that are closed to all but bicycles, and more. We already have the foresight with the infrastructure that’s been built in with the Natural Area trails and street thoroughfares. It’s already at the tipping point to getting there. Biking culture here helps make the city special and memorable; it’s something that people remember when they leave, and something that makes them want to come back, and it’s not just about the riding or the cultural environment, but about the Natural Spaces you can get to and spend time in so easily and in a fun way. The city was named the most bike friendly city in America last year by People for Bikes, and we lost this year to Boulder, so I personally want to see FoCo get back to #1!”

Cam Chioffi#

Cam Chioffi, world-class youth angler and local guide service owner

"The value I see in Natural Areas in an urban or semi-rural area like Fort Collins is, well… we use it to fish! It’s nice having something so close and that’s public, because you know a lot of the western states out here have a lot of private water and private land, so it’s nice being able to fish in these Natural Areas and fish all the way up the river through these areas. It’s just really nice to have such a large open space and insane amount of accessible water within 5 minutes of town that offers really good fishing. It’s good for the mental health, the physical health."

Brian Carroll#

Brian Carroll, Master Naturalist Volunteer for the City of Fort Collins

"I have been a Master Naturalist for almost fifteen years and have focused on the cultural connection to nature in that period. Cultures survived or failed because of their environment and understanding this is important. To ignore the cultural connection to a natural area is like ignoring the anthills that are prevalent there. Locally, cultural resources help to define the time they began part of the landscape.  Prehistorically there is no written record describing them, therefore comparison has to be made with similar features found elsewhere to understand them. Knowing how shelters were made, food gathered and processed, diet, and the all-important water played into the 'where we live' help us understand how favorable use of the environment impacted on site development."

Sara Bombacci#

Sara Bombaci, PhD, faculty in the CSU Fish and Wildlife Department and member of the Warner College of Natural Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Committee

"For me, biodiversity is huge.  Having natural areas is a source of increasing biodiversity, and as a conservation biologist I know they have been shown to maintain biodiversity in these spaces, especially when they are managed in a way that connects them. When you maintain these natural spaces that already exist, like here in Fort Collins, it provides habitat for wildlife, and corridors for movement of wildlife. Biodiversity has a connection to the regional natural space health, but you need to have local level action to have a broader impact. And, studies have shown that these restorative benefits have positive health effects, and not just for the clean air and water and such, but for mental health too."

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