Suck the Straws out of the Upper Ark Valley!

By: Mary Beth Flemming

February 3 was international straw free day! Restaurants all around the country are pledging to get rid of plastic straws.

Have you heard about the largest floating island of garbage to date, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, resting off the coast of California? According to the Inland Ocean Coalition, 80% of the garbage in these islands originates inland. The Coalition, a project of the Ocean Foundation, has estimated the garbage island’s current size to be larger than the landmass of the United States. The amount of plastic floating in this garbage patch outnumbers sea life 6 to 1. One of the largest inland plastic contributors to the garbage island is a plastic product designed for single use, the straw.

What does the buildup of plastics in our oceans mean for those of us living here in Chaffee County? Environmental organizations such as Earth Share have calculated that Americans use nearly 500 million straws every day, that’s enough to encircle the earth 2.5 times! Kids love them and many adults prefer them, but what is the impact of such convenience? All that waste has to go somewhere.

Is it possible for the Upper Arkansas Valley to help mitigate this problem?

Straws are a petroleum-based product that never truly biodegrade or go away; they are one of the top ten items picked up at clean-up events, because they are easily lost at disposal centers and light enough to blow around.  This is problematic for both wildlife and people. Marine wildlife think that straws are food and ingest the plastic, and humans then consume plastic filled fish. The Costa Rican Sea Turtle Association posted a viral video of a sea turtle that got a straw stuck up its nose.

Straw campaigns across the globe are sculpting the way for decreased consumption of plastic straws and even the complete banishment of their use both for inland and ocean communities.  According to EarthShare, Seattle became the first major city in the United States to ban plastic straw use completely in September of 2017. Places like Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom already ban straws, as do all concession areas at the Smithsonian Institution Museums. Manhattan Beach outside of Los Angeles bans straws and all other disposable plastics. A June, 2017 article in The Washington Post notes that as of summer, 2017, the Plastic Pollution Coalition estimates “1,800 restaurants, organizations, institutions and schools worldwide have gotten rid of plastic straws or implemented a serve-straws-upon-request policy.”

Thousands of people are joining the movement, even youth. Nine-year-old Molly Steer started the Straw No More project, with the goal of eliminating plastic straw use in local schools in Cairns, Australia. Her efforts inspired schools in South Korea, New Zealand, England and America to take the pledge. In her Tedx Talk on October 6, 2017, she described successfully encouraging 10,000 kids who have agreed to stop using plastic straws in their drinks at school.

There are few opposing arguments to eliminating straws but they include: restaurant cups are dirty, drinks are too cold, and people with certain disabilities may require the use of straws. The good news is that many manufacturing companies have stepped up with products such as glass straw and paper straws. The Mixing Bowl, in Salida, sells stainless steel straws. An organization called claims to be tackling the global plastic problem, “one bamboo straw at a time” by appointing one hundred percent of their bamboo straw sale proceeds to the education and outreach about the impacts of single-use plastic.

So what do you think Upper Arkansas Valley? Should we Suck the Straws Out? Although we are somewhat removed from the world’s oceans, the Arkansas River is a watershed that flows to the ocean. We are just as responsible for what flows into our waters as communities residing near the ocean. Will we join the worldwide straw-free movement? Our local choices effect others globally, and the choice to reduce single-use plastic consumption starts with the individual.

Example of a “No Straws” poster in a window in Boulder, CO.

Throughout March and April, GARNA will be partnering with the Sellars Project Space Partnership for Community Action (PfCA) to show the film Straws on the following dates:

Monday, March 19 beginning at 6:30 pm at the Salida SteamPlant Theater – FREE and open to all

For teens only! Thursday, March 22, 6:00 to 9:00 pm at Season’s Cafe in Salida; youth-driven straws reduction campaign – thanks to Chaffee County Youth Alliance for their support of this initiative!

What do you think about straws?

Do you think the Upper Arkansas Valley should be concerned about straw usage?

Please comment below.

Fall 2017 School Youth Ecological Literacy Programming

What an exciting fall for GARNA’s Youth Ecological Literacy Program! We doubled our number of field trips this fall, meaning we reached twice the amount of students with curiosity inducing and learning packed days of environmental education in outdoor classrooms. We are so thankful to our land agency partners such as the US Forest Service, BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, program partners Get Outdoors Leadville!, the Alpine Achievers Initiative, Society of American Foresters, and Trout Unlimited and awesome GARNA volunteers for helping us produce meaningful learning for so many students.

The goal of GARNA’s Youth Ecological Literacy Program, YELP, is to foster environmental stewardship and encourage young people to explore careers within the natural resources field. Through our school-based programs, we tailor lessons for each grade level, both to bolster students’ academic knowledge through hands-on experiences and to raise the next generation of youth to appreciate the uniqueness of our environment and be better stewards of our public lands.

Forestry Field Work – Lake County Intermediate School (Leadville) 7th and 8th Grade Fieldtrip – August 29

This is our first year partnering with Lake County Intermediate School through the Get Outdoors Colorado’s (GOCO) new initiative, Get Outdoors Leadville! (GOL!). We worked with 7th and 8th grade science teacher, Molly Hokkanen, to plan a day of Forestry Skills and hands on learning at Twin Lakes.

During this field day, students rotated through the following stations:

  • Hydrology: Glaciation, Reservoirs and Forestry
  • Wildlife: Predator/Prey relationships in the forest
  • Tag: Forestry Resources, Endemic Species and Fire
  • Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration: Tree cookies are so delicious
  • Field Techniques: Clinometers, increment borers and DBH, oh my!

Special thanks to Jeni Windorski, Wildlife Biologist, USFS Leadville Ranger District; Liz Hahnenberger, Forestry Technician, Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Office; Alex Rudney, Silviculturist, San Isabel National Forest; Lisa Corvin, Timber Program Lead, San Isabel National Forest; Molly Pitts, Natural Resource Consultant and Society of American Foresters; and Maddie Interdonato and Alex Winch, Alpine Achievers Initiative.

Birds of a Flock – Lake County Intermediate School (Leadville) 3rd Grade Cornerstone Trip – September 6

Students learn about bird adaptations by trying to pick up food with different beak styles. Led by Dominique Naccarato, GARNA staff.

This field trip is another a new GARNA youth program as part of the Get Outdoors Leadville! initiative. Students met at Turquoise Lake to learn all about birds and how the 3rd grade class can become a stronger flock to start off the school year. This day fostering teambuilding while focusing on the special characteristics of birds through stations such as “Bird Beak Buffet” – a look at the adaptations of birds and their beaks, “I Stand Out” – admiring the colors and unique characteristics light has on feathers through the book, The Sky Painter, by Luis Fuertes, and “Leaving the Nest” – learning about birds’ eggs and nests and how birds grow up just like we do.

Big thanks to Emily Latta, Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office; Alihah Trujillo, Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Office; Alex Winch and Kellie Hill, Alpine Achievers Initiative; Becca Katz, program coordinator for Get Outdoors Leadville! for making this a great day of learning and growing new friendships.

Walk together on teams skis is a great way to grow as a flock! Third graders learned team building skills with Alex Winch of Alpine Achievers Initiative.

We would also like to thank the third grade teaching team: Celesta Cairns, Beth Baker Basler, Andi Weigel, Allie Clark, Alan Johnson, Stephanie Gallegos, principal, and all the parent chaperones for assisting with the day!

See this great article about the day from the Leadville Herald Democrat.

Life Zones on Monarch Pass – Longfellow Elementary (Salida) 3rd grade – September 14

Read about this program here.

Arkansas Watershed – Salida Middle School 6th Grade Fall Field Trip – September 21

6th grade students geocache at Mount Ouray State Wildlife Area, using their latitude and longitude coordinates to find hidden eco-trivia questions.

The Salida 6th graders gathered for their 8th annual fall field trip to Mount Ouray State Wildlife Area. The field trip theme was learning about the Arkansas River watershed with stations focused on erosion and the rock cycle, riparian ecology including collecting aquatic invertebrates, fishing and GPS navigation.

A huge thank you to Sean Shepherd, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, District Wildlife Manager; Matthew Coen, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, SWA Manager; Kim Woodruff, District Wildlife Manager, Colorado Parks & Wildlife; Alex Winch and Matt Hill, Alpine Achievers Initiative; Keith Krebs and Eric Heltzel, Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited; and Scarlett Massine, GARNA volunteer.

Learning to use a GPS as a part of their 6th grade field trip is an orienteering skill students improve upon from learning to use compasses in the 3rd grade.

We would also like to thank the 6th grade teaching team: George Mossman, Jean Dyer, Cory Scheffel and Michael Williams.

Public Lands Exploration – Avery Parsons Elementary (Buena Vista) 4th Grade – September 29

Bob Hickey, AHRA Volunteer Naturalist, teaches students what fossils in the area look like and how they were formed.

This is the second year GARNA has hosted the 4th grade class from Buena Vista for a field trip to Ruby Mountain Campground and Browns Canyon National Monument. With the new formation of the Browns Canyon National Monument, this was a special day for students to hike into the monument and see for themselves what makes it a unique place. In addition to the hike, students learned and explored at the following stations: Geology: Fossils and Pre-history of Our Watershed, Watershed Ecology and Orienteering: A Compass Scavenger Hunt.

Avery Parsons 4th graders learn about the Arkansas water shed by building their own erosion models.

Special thanks to Bob Hickey, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Volunteer Naturalist; Janet Blessington, GARNA volunteer; Jeanne Younghaus, Friends of Fourmile, GARNA Volunteer; Linda Skinner and Xavier Balerdi, Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office; Cari Caudill and Alex Winch, Alpine Achievers Initiative.

We would like to thank the 4th grade teaching team: Dave Bott, Heidi Atha, and Heather Griggs. Also, thank you to Bob Meeker for filling in as a group leader and all the other parent chaperones who supported this great day of learning in the outdoors.

Fall 2017 Youth Ecological Literacy Longfellow Elementary 3rd grade Fieldtrip

Life Zones along Monarch Pass– Thursday, September 14

GARNA’s Youth Ecological Literacy Program (YELP) goals are to foster environmental stewardship and to encourage young people to explore careers within the field of natural resources. The program provides science-based, experiential activities and education through school field trips, career exploration, enrichment programs, and summer camps. The goal of the school-based programs is to tailor lessons for each grade level, both to bolster students’ academic knowledge through hands on experiences and to raise the next generation of youth with a better understanding of stewardship and what makes their environment so unique.

Anthony Davila, US Forest Service, leads a geology hike on the Monarch Crest Trail.

What kinds of trees still thrive with a short 3 month growing season in the subalpine? What kinds of animals can handle the winds and changing weather of the alpine? How have the extreme factors involving wind, water, and glaciers shape the geology of the mountains? What makes riparian areas such an important corridor for wildlife?  Longfellow Elementary 3rd graders explored the rich diversity of the varying life zones along Monarch Pass answering these questions and more.

Observing and comparing the foothills, montane, riparian, subalpine, and alpine life zones by making stops in Maysville and hiking along the Monarch Crest Trail, Salida School District 3rd graders had a great day learning from many local experts. Students completed 4 stations covering the topics of geology, plant biology, terrestrial biology, and orienteering. These stations were led by GARNA staff, Alpine Achievers Initiative AmeriCorps Members, partners from the US Forest Service, and GARNA volunteers. As a part of their pre-trip lesson, students learned both how compasses work and about compass navigation and had the opportunity to put those skills to use through an orienteering scavenger hunt. For many, hiking along the Monarch Crest Trail and seeing the grand views of the continental divide were a highlight. The extensive outdoor classroom along Monarch Pass made for a great day of learning!

Alex and Matt with Alpine Achievers Initiative explain the compass scavenger hunt.

Bat, find your insect!

We would like to thank all our volunteers for teaching and making the day a great success: Anthony Davila, US Forest Service; Claire Mechtly, GARNA volunteer; Alex Winch and Matt White, Alpine Achievers Initiative; John McCarthy, GARNA Board member, and Janet Blessington, GARNA volunteer. We would also like to thank the parent chaperones and Longfellow 3rd Grade Teachers: Morgan Love, Mark Tameler, Jaime Giorno, and Carol McIlvaine.

2017 Summer Nature Camp

camp smilesSummer is a wonderful time for exploration around Chaffee County; it’s a great time to use our imaginations, build forts, look a grasshopper in the eyes under a magnifying glass, hike to alpine ponds, find pet worms, feed trout, get muddy, and eat cattails. Nature Camp this summer offered these opportunities and many more over 6 weeks through our two camps: Nature’s Scientists (ages 8 to 11) and Nature’s Explorers (ages 5 to 7).

We had a great summer learning about different life zones such as wetlands at Mount Ouray State Wildlife Area, the meadows at Hutchinson Ranch, the subalpine at Monarch Mountain and riparian and river habitats at Poncha Creek picnic hike

It’s a wonderful experience for campers to spend an entire day outdoors. While exploring, playing games, and participating in hands on activities, campers grow in knowledge, but also grow in independence, build curiosities, and make great friendships.

camp bugThanks to all the families who participated this summer; we are already looking forward to 2018! And a big thank you to our summer intern, Claire Patton, for bringing energy and leading the best games. Thank you also to the Mt Shavano Fish Hatchery volunteers for sharing their enthusiasm as always!

2017 Stream Explorers in Salida

Photo: Tom Palka

The underwater habitat of the Arkansas River is a fascinating, diverse ecosystem with unending avenues for exploration. A group of 5th through 8th graders did just that this May through a GARNA and Trout Unlimited Program called Stream Explorers. The students met for 4 weeks, performing a variety of experiments and relating their inferences to what they observed in the Arkansas. “This is a scientific inquiry-based program,” says Tom Palka, a volunteer teacher with Trout Unlimited. “We guide the students to ask the questions and then to design the experiments they should conduct to answer them. In other programs, experiments are often conducted in a ‘do this experiment this way and tell me the answer’ but we encourage curiosity and imagination and let the students drive the process.” The goal of this program is that students will ask and answer questions they have about the river ecosystem and in the end, become better stewards of the unique river habitat.

The first week, students studied aquatic invertebrates, insects that hatch and develop in the river before flying off above water as adults. They performed a variety of behavior tests to observe whether insects prefer light or dark, warm or cold, or are surface or bottom dwellers. Then then related their studies to actual insects, looking to see what they could find in the shallow waters near the banks of the Arkansas. By looking at how these invertebrates develop, we realize they are a good indicator of water quality, as well as an important part of the food web for the trophy fish we hoped to see in the Arkansas. Plus, catching, identifying, looking at the life stages of these strange creatures turned out to be loads of fun.

The second week, students focused on what is needed in the habitat of a fish. They monitored gold fish respiration to make observations about the relationship of dissolved oxygen and water temperature. Each student spent time perfecting a unique habitat for a gold fish to take home with the goal of providing the fish’s necessities to live until the next week!

The third and fourth weeks, we put the research on where insects live and what fish need to the test!  Students learned to tie flies in the traditional method although a preference for neon colored flies seemed to be a trend. They learned about the parts of a fly rod, how to tie knots, and how to cast. Finally, each student used his or her fly rod and the flies they tied to catch a trout at Kelly’s Pond outside of Buena Vista; this is a private pond stocked with fish and a great learning environment for new learners.

Photo: Tom Palka

This is the 3rd year GARNA has partnered with Trout Unlimited to offer this program in Chaffee County. The series will also be offered in Buena Vista June 26 – 29.

A huge thank you to Keith Krebs, President of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, for helping coordinate, to volunteer teachers Tom Palka and Mike Perry, and to the Kelly Family and the Hi Rocky Store for allowing us to use of their stocked pond for beginner fishing. Salida Rec supported the program through assisting with registration, Youth and Family Initiatives and the City of Salida supported the program by allowing us to use space in the Touber Building. Colorado Parks & Wildlife provided a grant to offer each student who completed the program their own fly rod.