Oct. 2018: GARNA Awards Photo Prizes in 5th Annual Photo Contest Fundraiser

GARNA awards photo prizes - by Jan Wondra - Ark Valley Voice

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 StrawFree.org 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.

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.

Spring 2017 Youth Ecological Literacy Fieldtrips


Salida Middle School 6th Grade Spring Service Field Trip – Thursday, April 27


Mr. Williams and Ms. Dyers 6th grade classes learn about the history of the railroad including the importance of the Monarch Spur from local historian and musician, Jack Chivvis.

The goal of this field trip was to provide students a better understanding of the ecology and history of the Monarch Spur trail, a converted rail to trail, and to allow students to take part in restoring a portion of the trail though an annual service project. The 6th grade Salida Middle School class spent their day learning and serving at hands-on stations along this important trail in Salida on one of the most unique weather days this Spring; we experienced rain, 65-and-sunny, sleet and snow all in the time period the students were outside! The students did a great job and enjoyed the day despite the challenges the weather may have presented.


6th Graders take turns cleaning trash, pulling weeds, and planting native seeds along the trail as a part of their restoration project.

Students learned about native and nonnative species that grow along the trail corridor from Salida Trail Ecological Restoration Project (STERP) director, Buffy Lenth, and completed their own restoration project removing litter, preparing soil, and planting native seed. They also learned more about the ecology of the area through a station exploring the soil in Ditch Creek, participating in a birding scavenger hunt and building models of aquifers to look at underground water sources here in the valley.

Midday, we had the opportunity to hear from two local historians. Jack Chivvis enlightened us about the early days of the railroad in Salida when the Denver and Rio Grande were the lifeline of the community and the Monarch Spur was used to support important mining efforts. Becky Donlan shared information about the lives of the Utes, including navigation signs they used during migration in the valley and seeing examples of the tools they carried with them.

GARNA partners, Lucy Waldo with Upper Arkansas Conservation District and Ronni Vitullo with Guidestone host students at the soil station giving them the opportunity to perform tests for pH and nitrogen and checking for living organisms in soil.

A huge thank you to Becky Donlan, Native American Research & Preservation, Inc., Jack Chivvis, Salida Historian and GARNA volunteer, Liz Hahnenberger, BLM Royal Gorge Field Office, Wes Cochran, GARNA volunteer, Buffy Lenth, Salida Trail Ecological Restoration Project Coordinator with the Central Colorado Conservancy, Rachel Conroy, Boys & Girls Club Chaffee County, Lucy Waldo, Upper Arkansas Conservation District, and Ronni Vitullo, Guidestone Colorado. We couldn’t do it without our great partners and volunteers!

Longfellow Elementary 3rd Grade Spring Service Field Trip – Thursday, May 4

The 3rd grade of Longfellow Elementary gathered at Sands Lake for four environmental education stations designed to engage the senses, hone scientific exploration and encourage stewardship. Enjoying the vista of Mount Shavano and the rushing waters of the Arkansas, students participated in an Art in Nature Station where they used their senses to connect what they saw, heard, and smelled to beauty in nature and what we can learn from it. Students enjoyed quiet time to draw the beauty around them. On the other side of the lake, the US Forest Service led a station on Caring for Public Lands where students watched a fun skit about Leave No Trace principles cleaned up micro-trash that disturbs both wildlife and water quality in Sands Lake and the Arkansas River.


The Mountain Zone Fire Crew give students a chance to try out gear on their engine.


Students collect aquatic invertebrates from the Arkansas River at the Wildlife Station.

Students studied wildlife by dissecting a trout and collecting aquatic invertebrates from the river. They also practiced their fishing skills with a fishing station in the lake. A final station taught about forestry and wildfires.  Students learned about trees from BLM foresters and how the how fires are fought on public lands from the USFS Mountain Zone Fire Crew. Students enjoyed inspecting their gear, the engine, and practiced using the water hose! There was even a surprise visit from Smokey Bear during lunch.


3rd Grade Students learn about Leave No Trace from the Forest Service before spending time cleaning the trails around Sands Lake

Many thanks to: Jen Swacina, US Forest Service, Salida Ranger District,  Claire Powmesamy, Southwest Conservation Corp, Stephanie Shively, US Forest Service, Salida Ranger District, Craig Reeder, US Forest Service, Salida Ranger District, Sean Shepherd, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bryce Hofmann, Bureau of Land Management, Royal Gorge, Linda Erikson – GARNA volunteer, Jody Bol, GARNA Board member, Liz Hahnenberger, Bureau of Land Management, Royal Gorge, Jeremiah Moore, Bureau of Land Management, Royal Gorge, John Markalunas US Forest Service, Salida Ranger District and members of the USFS Mountain Zone Fire Crew.

2016 GARNA Annual Report

2016 GARNA Annual Report