Jeff Lamontagne knew he wouldn’t be able to endure the commute forever so after five and a half years as executive director of the Bluff Lake Nature Center, the Lakewood resident has resigned to take on a job closer to home – as executive director of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison. The attraction there, “kids, science, the outdoors,” is what brought Lamontagne to Bluff Lake back in 2011.
Lamontagne departs for Dinosaur Ridge satisfied that he has left the Bluff Lake physical asset and the non-profit organization in a better place. He points to four themes as evidence:
- Creation of a year-round lake by stopping leaks in the dam wall and lake bottom. The $3.1 million dollar project, including an 1100-foot long barrier wall, was the first improvement since the mud and stone dam was constructed 132 years ago. “It’s just more of a healthy, year-round lake and that’s a big deal. It impacts our education program, the aesthetics and the wildlife.”
- Expansion of summer camps, tripling in size from 70 to 200 participants plus a wait list. “I’m very happy about that. The camps get rave reviews.”
- Increasing community outreach through events such as bird walks, Blues and Brews, and the Boo on the Bluff (trick-or-treat event). Lamontagne is especially optimistic about Bluff Lake’s participation in a GOCO-funded project to increase youth access to Northeast Denver outdoor assets. As one member of the GoWild coalition, Bluff Lake will receive $238,000 to support construction of a “modest” welcome/information center, a new nature play area and funding for more Nature Exploration Teams where youth get in-depth environmental education on-site at BLNC.
- Fostering more camaraderie and enthusiasm within the board of directors, staff and volunteers. “We have reached a place where everyone understands that we can do both preservation and outreach to the community. The site is still special and it’s not going to be an amusement park.”
He says the 123 acre nature center was a “quiet, out of the way place” when the non-profit was founded more than 20 years ago. Now, Stapleton has grown up around it but Bluff Lake remains the wildest, most natural part of the Sand Creek Regional Greenway—“a shining gem that the community can be proud of.” He hopes his successor will continue the outreach effort to make the asset even more welcoming. “There’s not a full understanding of how unusual it is for land like that to be within city limits.”
Lamontagne’s last day was January 13. An interim director, Ron Mirenda, has been named and the solicitation of a permanent executive director has begun. BLNC Board President Erika Walker says Mirenda is highly experienced but will not be applying for the permanent position. She hopes to have the position filled by mid-April. She said Lamontagne had done an “exceptional job” and wants his successor to bring a similar set of skills including strong leadership, non-profit management and a commitment to preservation.