OURAY – The Ridgway Ouray Community Council awards committee announced this week that Ouray residents Bob and Karen Risch will receive the organization’s 2010 Outstanding Citizen Award. The Risches will be honored at the ROCC annual Spaghetti Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 27 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center.
Peter Hackett, M.D., world authority on altitude sickness and director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride, is the event’s featured speaker.
For the past 15 years, the Risches have been actively improving the quality of life in Ouray County. The son of a gold and silver miner, Bob was born in Ouray and graduated from Ouray High School. He met Karen at the University of Colorado and the two taught in Jefferson County Public Schools for more than 30 years. An astronomer, Bob also was director of the Jefferson County Planetarium.
“We both love Ouray and thought retiring here in 1995 would be an interesting adventure,” said Bob.
Now serving his second term as Mayor of Ouray, Bob has rallied the community around his energy-saving initiatives. Last year, he obtained grants from San Miguel Power and Tri-State Energy to convert the city’s mercury vapor streetlights to energy-efficient LEDs. The LED lights have reduced Ouray’s power bills by 75 percent and eliminated glare on the night sky.
He recently secured another $30,000 from the Governor’s Energy Office for a micro-hydro generating unit to supply power for the Hot Springs Pool. The hydroelectric plant is expected to save the city $17,000 per year in electricity costs. Earlier this winter, Bob oversaw an inventory of the city’s hot springs that was made possible by another grant from the GEO, and hopes to replace fossil fuel sources of heat with geothermal.
“These options make sense both economically and environmentally,” he said. “I’m glad there’s a strong consensus within the community that we need to conserve resources and address the carbon problem.”
Lifelong hikers and climbers, the Risches have summited all of Colorado’s 14ers. Both have volunteered their mountaineering skills to the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team. Karen personally trained Lyra, a search dog for the organization’s first K9 team. (Lyra is now enjoying her retirement at the Risch home in Ouray.)
Karen also served as president of the Ouray Trail Group (2003-2008) and Bob is a former vice president. They and other members worked for a decade to find and improve miners’ trails, mostly on U.S. Forest service land. They are pleased that the Trail Group’s latest map includes 74 trails, compared to 17 in 1998.
“It was a labor of love for both of us,” Karen said “and lots of hard work.”
As president, Karen helped accomplish a merger between the Trail Group and the Ouray County Nordic Council. Her book, “Hiking Ouray with Kids” is a popular item at the Ouray Visitors Center, as is the latest version of Hiking Trails of Ouray County Map and Guide. In addition to her other activities, Karen served on the city’s Planning Commission for five years and is the city’s representative on the Ouray County Joint Planning Board. She was one of the city’s representatives to an Intergovernmental Agreement Commission in 2001-02, which led to the creation of the joint planning boards from Ridgway and Ouray.
In 1998, Bob helped form and then chaired the Red Mountain Task Force, which initiated the Red Mountain Project. The Risches and other community members dedicated themselves to preserving historic sites in the Red Mountain Mining District. Many of those sites were then on land available for sale.
While Bob spent hours researching mining claims, Karen helped with a letter-writing campaign to Colorado Congressmen. “We swamped their offices with letters until their staffs begged us to stop,” she said. “People here understood the need to preserve those lands and structures.”
Their efforts resulted in a $14 million grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. With help from the Trust for Public Land, the Ouray Historical Society and other partners, the Red Mountain Project acquired nearly 9,000 acres, now in the public domain.
Each year, ROCC, a non-profit community group of the Grand Junction-based Western Colorado Congress, honors those who add missing elements to the quality of life in the region, either through professional calling or volunteer initiatives, and who have made a perceptible difference through those services to the community at large.
“We are honored to be so recognized,” Bob Risch said.
The dinner’s guest speaker, Dr. Peter Hackett, will share his adventures climbing, trekking and practicing medicine from Yosemite to Denali to Mt. Everest. Dr. Hackett is a Clinical Professor of Surgery in the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine and Clinical Director of the Altitude Research Center there. While working In Nepal, he soloed Mt. Everest’s summit and established the Himalayan Rescue Association.
Dr. Hackett has published over 100 papers related to altitude medicine and edited eight books. His many media appearances include two NOVA specials, Nightline with Ted Koppel and the Phil Donahue Show.
ROCC also will honor Ridgway resident Rein Van West with the organization’s Member of the Year award for his contributions to the Air and Water Committee and his role as ROCC’s representative to the WCC.
Admission to this year’s dinner is $10, with free admission for children under 12. The dinner includes spaghetti, a variety of homemade sauces, salad, garlic bread and homemade desserts. Beer and wine may be purchased.