An Aspen couple who have directly and indirectly inspired thousands of Roaring Fork Valley children to love nature and the outdoors was recognized Monday with a lifetime achievement award for environmental education.
Tom and Jody Cardamone received the Enos E. Mill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education. The alliance calls the award “Colorado’s highest honor for outstanding, individual, long-term accomplishments in the field of environmental education.”
Jody Caudill Cardamone, an Aspen native, was hired as the first executive director of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in 1975. Tom was appointed co-director later that same year. They helped develop an environmental education program responsible for bringing school-aged kids to Hallam Lake, the wildlife sanctuary in the heart of Aspen.
In 1990, Jody “stepped into her preferred role as head naturalist” and Tom became executive director of ACES, according to a history section on the organization’s website. Tom held the executive director position until Chris Lane was hired as CEO in 2012. The Cardamones remain ingrained in the environmental organization though they don’t have formal titles.
“Jody and Tom have lived and breathed ecological conservation for more than 50 years,” Lane said. “I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this prestigious award than the two of them. Today, we are all beneficiaries of their tireless work to protect wildlife and the fragile ecosystems of our region.”
True to form, they were preparing for a 3 p.m. Zoom meeting on an environmental issue Monday when the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education announced the reward and couldn’t comment on the honor.
The Cardamones played a big role in ACES 50th anniversary celebration in summer 2019. They are credited with having the foresight to reach beyond the Hallam Lake headquarters to teach Aspen residents and visitors about nature. They started naturalist programs that enlisted college students and graduates in environmental sciences to bring environmental education to the outdoor places where people converged. Naturalists lead such diverse activities as snowshoe tours on the back of Aspen Mountain to summer hikes on the Lost Man Loop.
Tom Cardamone told The Aspen Times in an interview last year that the successful formula at ACES is due to the efforts of numerous staff members and members of the board of directors.
“We were in charge of the compass to make sure it stayed on course,” he said.
The Cardamones also helped the organization expand its scope with the purchase of Rock Bottom Ranch in the midvalley in 1999. The 113-acre ranch serves as an education center for sustainable agriculture and it demonstrates how nature and ranching can co-exist.
The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education said the Cardamones established more than 70 partnerships with local area schools, government agencies, businesses and other nonprofits. They mentored hundreds of emerging naturalists. They build community strength and pride around caring for the environment.
“Through their knowledge of natural history, love of teaching and decades of hard work, Tom and Jody have instituted EE programs throughout Aspen-area schools and instilled an overarching environmental consciousness throughout the Roaring Fork Community,” said Katie Navins, executive director of the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, in a statement.
The Cardamones aren’t finished with environmental education. Tom founded the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative in 2018 to support a comprehensive and unprecedented study on biodiversity and connectivity in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Officials anticipate it will inform decision-making for years to come.