Five years ago, a small group of conservation-minded anglers sat down to discuss strategies for how to excite a new generation of young, passionate anglers. The plan of our small group -- eventually known as the Greenbacks -- was simple: change how conservation is viewed by a younger audience and make it engaging by thinking outside the box.
As Nick Hoover, one of the core members of our group noted, “After being involved with my local Trout Unlimited chapter for awhile, I realized the traditional chapter model might not be working for the majority of my peers. I thought it would be fun to find a committed core of young anglers like me who were having a hard time plugging into TU and together introduce some fun back into conservation."
Our first idea was to host a gallery event, later dubbed 'Surface Film', showcasing of some of the best fly-fishing photography from around the country. “We’re fortunate to know some very talented photographers that are willing to offer their images for the greater good”, said Tim Romano, also a member of the group and well-known professional photographer. Images were gathered, printed, and then framed by Anthology Fine Art in Denver. “It was a huge task to undertake, but it was something we felt strongly about, so we were all in,” noted Anthology Fine Art's owner, and Greenback, Zach Custer.
Surface Film came to fruition and a date was set for a public opening. On a February evening in 2010, even with a good amount of snow the day of, attendees formed a packed crowd and browsed framed prints which were offered through a silent auction. A band played, drinks were served, photographs were sold, and great discussions were born.
The Greenbacks expanded and new ideas were conceived, starting with a film event that went on to shatter fundraising expectations. Eventually, after ongoing efforts, we raised enough funds to invest in on-the-ground conservation efforts. First came a donation to Trout Unlimited conservation projects surrounding the The Roan Plateau (voted on by film goers). Several Greenbacks took part in helping plant willows around Trapper Creek to encourage a healthy cutthroat habitat.
As group continued to grow, we realized we needed to reach a larger audience. Branding and social media efforts were key, and at the time we didn’t have a logo, website, or a presence on networks aimed at our demographic. Nick came up with a killer logo and built a simple but effective website. We also began hitting social media platforms hard. The success of these efforts brought so many more people into the equation and even started discussions of our model. In truth, we didn’t really have a 'model', just good people willing to donate their talents to form a good, collective group.
In 2013, The Greenbacks launched its 1of750 campaign. Studies had just revealed several new findings regarding cutthroat trout, including the revelation that only one population remained of Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout -- a population that was discovered outside of its native drainage in a small stream near Colorado Springs. The greenbacks arrived in this small stream, a tributary of the Arkansas River, by a simple twist of fate when a businessman brought them from the South Platte drainage sometime around the turn of the century in hopes of creating a fishing destination on the way to Pikes Peak.
The results of these studies spurred larger endeavors. The group has aided Colorado Parks and Wildlife in their work of reintroducing greenbacks into their native drainage. In 2014, several of The Greenbacks participated in releasing 1,200 greenback cutthroat into Zimmerman Lake in the headwaters of the Poudre River, a tributary to the South Platte. And in 2015, the group will embark on its largest project to date by helping build fish barriers in the northwest part of the state, barriers which will fend off non-natives and reintroduce more greenbacks into their native range.
The reality of these new endeavors is that vast amounts of funding are needed in order to proliferate and stock this rare fish. Therefore, The Greenbacks have aggressively pursued grants, raised $10,000 through a crowd-funding online campaign, and continue to raise money at events. One hundred percent of the funds The Greenbacks raise go directly to restoring and enhancing the greenback cutthroat trout and its habitat.
Over the years, The Greenbacks of Trout Unlimited have donated thousands of hours to help boost the next generation of Trout Unlimited members. While not a chapter, the group is officially an affinity group that enjoys working with state chapters and engaging people that otherwise would not be involved in protecting, sustaining, or restoring local cold-water fisheries and the greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado.
The future is limitless, but it can’t happen more support from anglers and others around the country.
Please help The Greenbacks celebrate five years of our unique conservation philosophy. Get in contact and come celebrate with us at Surface Film 5, February 27th at Anthology Fine Art in Denver. Let’s continue to change how simple, effective campaigns bring more power to protecting the places we love.