The Mountain Studies Institute's mission is to enhance understanding and sustainable use of the San Juan Mountains through research and education. MSI serves students, educators, researchers, land and environmental managers, elected officials and the public within the region and beyond by relating broadly and comparatively to the study of other mountain ranges worldwide.
MSI seeks to empower communities, managers, and scientists to innovate solutions through mountain research, education, and practice - bringing people science they can use.
First conceptualized in the late 1990's as "living classroom without walls," the vision of a mountain center of education and research in Colorado's San Juan Mountains was refined by more than 20 collaborators including the Town of Silverton, San Juan County, Fort Lewis College, and San Juan Public Lands Center. With funding from two federal appropriations through the US Forest Service, the fledgling Institute became a reality in 2002. Now in its 16th year, MSI has grown to a staff of 12 with field offices in Silverton and Durango, and an annual budget of roughly $1 million. The organization operates more than 48 research and education programs annually in an 11-county area of southwest Colorado (Archuleta, Dolores, Gunnison, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montrose, Montezuma, Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel), serving a regional population of approximately 164,000 people.
A focus on mountain systems has made MSI unique since its inception. While other organizations may focus on a particular element of the environment, MSI's work takes a systems-based approach, recognizing the interconnections between ecosystem components, and that all actions have cascading effects that reach across time and space. For example, rather than simply studying water quality, we would study how air quality impacts a high alpine lake's water quality through deposition of mercury and nutrients, teasing out the connections and exploring the creative tension at the intersection of disciplines.
Further, MSI is unique from other institutions in that we are focused on serving the isolated rural communities of southwest Colorado and the San Juan Mountains. The communities in this region, once reliant on mining, are now struggling economically. MSI strives to engage the underserved youth in this area, providing youth development programs that help them to understand and address the issues threatening their communities while improving their own potential to thrive in the economic environment by building environmental literacy, developing job skills, and participating in a variety of enrichment and service learning activities.
"MSI's efforts providing Animas spill data provided an invaluable voice of reason in the hurricane of this emergency. Thank you" Jack Burk, Mancos River Conservancy District.
"Mountain Studies Institute is an inspiring organization to intern for because their projects and data collected are meaningful to the residents of the San Juans. MSI helped me strengthen my skills and my passion to use science to make a difference." Lara Getz, MSI Intern.
"MSI has been a great partner in facilitating the preservation of our cultural resources along the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway- their efforts are notable for sustaining the restoration of the standing buildings at the Animas Forks townsite." David Singer, Silverton Restoration Consulting, 2014
"I have spent many years of my life in the woods and always assumed that what I saw was healthy and beautiful. I am learning that this is not the case! Our forests are not in good shape and I am really excited to be learning the tools and techniques to help our forests become healthier for the future." Jaimie Park, Citizens for Forest Health Brigade volunteer monitor, Pagosa Springs, CO.
"I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the Intern's presentations on Friday. What an enthusiastic and creative bunch in the Four Corners Federal Lands Intern Program! I was quite envious of their wilderness trips and photos. Their presentations have inspired me ...Thank you for all of your hard work on this program, what a great way to recruit young people into the natural resource arena. I hope we can continue this valuable program." Kara Chadwick, San Juan National Forest Supervisor
"Water quality sampling with MSI was my favorite part of the summer." Soren Braford Lefebvre, Silverton Elementary School Student, Silverton, CO.