The last two weeks provided some new experiences to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy as we launched our new High School Leadership Corps! For those who are unfamiliar, this was an opportunity for 10 high school age students, all of which were from the Front Range of Colorado, to come up to live, work, and learn in Rocky Mountain National Park for 12 days. During these couple of weeks the HSLC crew members were exposed to several projects and different groups from both the National Park Service and the neighboring Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. In addition, each project day was supplemented by a development activity. Whether it be journaling every evening, learning about natural resource careers, or developing leadership skills, each day the high school youth had a little time committed to personal growth along with conservation projects.
After settling in on the first day, our first project was spent working with the re-vegetation crew where we planted nearly 1000 native species across two days around the Moraine Park Discovery Center and pulled a bunch of Cheatgrass. The area was significantly disturbed by a water line project last summer and was in dire need of restoration. This was a learning experience for everyone as we learned how much goes into restoring native species to natural habitat.
For the second project, we worked with the volunteer office on what they like to call a Trail Adventure Clean-Up. For the project, 14 of us worked together to help clean up the area around Lumpy Ridge. Because of all the traffic Lumpy Ridge receives and the satellite nature of the trailhead, it is conducive to trash being left behind. We spent the afternoon broken up into three groups walking around the various trails and the parking lot using the aptly named “clompers” to pick up trash we found. During our time before we got hit by the typical Colorado afternoon storm dropping gumball sized hail and picked up 12 pounds of trash which entailed wrappers, cans, the sole of a a boot, and one toy giraffe.
We wrapped up the first week by learning about wildfire and how the park works to mitigate fire danger naturally. One way fire mitigation occurs in Rocky is by mechanically building slash piles. Slash piles are cone like structures that the fire crew uses to gather all of the fallen trees or branches in one central location to help prevent fires from moving too quickly through an area. Once these piles are constructed during the summer, the fire crew will utilize the wet and cold winter to manually burn them in order to mitigate future fires in the park. Getting to help with this project was fun as we turned it into a competition of who built the nicest piles would get first dibs on showering. Turns out all four of the piles we built were very sturdy so it was a toss up.
Over the weekend, we stepped away from conservation work and explored some of the beauty Rocky Mountain National Park had to offer. This included traveling to the west side for a short hike, visiting the town of Grand Lake, and doing a sunset hike up to Dream Lake.
For the second week, we got to spend time doing both trail construction and maintenance with crews from the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the Roosevelt National Forest, the the trails shop in RMNP, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, and Headwaters Trail Alliance all of which are representatives of either the Forest Service or the National Park Service. During our time working with these groups we got a lot of work done! For two days we spent time withe the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and Canyon Lakes Ranger District on the Lions Gulch trail. This is one of the trails that was significantly affected by the 2013 floods. The two days we spent on Lions gulch we were able to finish a ton of work. This included:
- Clearing three tree stumps from new trail
- Felling two trees to create corridor
- Installing five check steps
- Constructing two retaining walls
- Building three horse ramps
- Digging two drains
- Cutting 100 feet of new tread
- Removing one large metal pipe deposited by floodwater on the trail
On the next day we worked alongside the Rocky Mountain National Park trail crew as well as the Conservancy’s Conservation Corps. On this day we helped with clearing brush from the trail corridor and covering up social trails that people had created over the years. This meant a lot of lopping of smaller trees and branches while also using fallen trees or logs around the area to cover those old trails. While this was much different work than we had done the couple days before everyone was very happy about the seven miles of trail we covered and getting to meet some new people and just generally getting to work in the park! One of the teams on trail even saw a moose!
For our last project day, we traveled to the Fraser Valley to work on the Chainsaw Trail with the Headwaters Trails Alliance. The Chainsaw Trail is a unique trail to get to work on because it is part of a very popular mountain bike trails system in the area. This project was seen as frustrating yet fun as we were tasked with raising an existing board walk out of the mud, the extending it another 20 feet, and adding another 20 feet to the end with a turnpike. This took a lot of patience and some good hammering skills as we added 15 more boards each with four nine inch nails in them. Once we finished the boardwalk we focused our attention to the turnpike. The turnpike was interesting because we were responsible for installing another drain that ran through a culvert. A culvert is a tube used to move water underneath the turnpike to prevent more water running into the newly fixed trail.
We finished up the last day of work with a stop at Dairy King in Grand Lake on our way back over to Moraine Park to learn about the old fur trappers of the area and make s’mores.
This being the first summer of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy hosting the High School Leadership Corps I think everyone involved had a great learning experience. Whether it was being in charge of waking everyone up for work or sleeping in a tent for the first time, we gained valuable memories and experiences that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Thanks to the parents, crew members, and to those whose projects we were able to assist with. We look forward to the opportunity to continue this program for years to come!
Last but certainly not least, for all of you driving around with Rocky Mountain National Park license plates in Colorado, you will be excited to know you helped provide this amazing opportunity through your donation to the Park!
Thanks for checking in on this exciting new program and have an excellent rest of your summer!
-Tommy Egland (High School Leadership Corps Leader)