DOI / VISTA Team Projects

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Justin Twist

DOI / VISTA: Justin Twist
Supervisor: Kim Weiss
Address: 14460 E. 50th Ave., Denver, Colorado 80239
County: Denver
Voice Telephone: 303.291.7554
Web site:
Congressional District: 1
Bureau: Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)


The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is committed to building partnerships, which encourage conservation and preservation of the refuges‘ natural and cultural resources.The Refuge provides environmental education and interpretive programs, catch-and-release recreational fee fishing, 10 miles of hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, site tours for the public, a self-guided Wildlife Drive auto tour, and is a sanctuary for more than 330 species of animals, including bison, deer, coyotes, bald eagles, and burrowing owls.

About the Surrounding Community

Low income, culturally diverse youth in metropolitan Denver do not have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers for career exploration and are at greater risk of dropping out of school, joining gangs, and taking part in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. They also have reduced access to extracurricular activities that develop life and leadership skills and that prepare youth for the path to college and economic stability. Unless children are exposed to outdoor experiences, nature, and experiential science education they have no basis for even considering the economic opportunity represented by careers in science and natural resources related fields. 

According to the US Census Bureau Small Area Income Poverty Estimates, in Denver County approximately 29% of those 18 and younger are living in poverty. Montbello, the heart of the projects service area, has a total population of 30,348 including 11,137 children, 90% of whom are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. In Montbello, 11.6% of families live in poverty, 30% of people under the age of 25 do not have a 12th grade education, and 39.15% of babies were born to women with less than a 12th grade education as compared to only 24.08% of Denver as a whole (Piton Foundation, 2008). With a population that is 59% Hispanic, 28% black, and 8% white, Montbello currently, as well as historically, has one of Denver’s highest populations of people of color and experiences disproportionate amounts poverty, crime, and environmental injustice. 

Project Overview

The goal of the project is to build a sustainable community and provide environmental and economic benefits for families in Northeast Denver. DOI/VISTA Justin Twist is working to leverage and enhance the partnership with the Refuge in order to expand the scope and impact of the work of a local non-profit, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), in Montbello and adjacent neighborhoods. Currently, he is cultivating the Refuge-ELK partnership and identifying sustainable opportunities to collaborate on conducting science-based field activities. These activities incorporate mentoring, leadership, community service, and career development at schools k-12, recreation centers, and community organizations within the community of Northeast Denver and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Justin is also identifying additional ways in which the Refuge and ELK goals overlap and how these areas can be used to leverage a long-term partnership around economic opportunities development for adjacent communities. One idea is to create job shadowing, internship, and employment opportunities for high school and college-age ELK youth on the Refuge. 

Sponsors and Partners

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