High School Leadership Corps – Year 2 (June Crew)

The first crew during year two of the High School Leadership Corps has ended!

During the month of June, the Conservancy hosted its second year of high school students in the Rocky Mountain Conservancy – High School Leadership Corps (HSLC) for 12 days. To recap, this program brings 10 high school students from around the Front Range of Colorado up to Rocky Mountain National Park where they are exposed to a variety of conservation-based practices. Over the course of two weeks, the participants learned how to camp and follow leave no trace principles, served on a vegetation management crew with the National Park Service Volunteer program, and helped to build a bridge with the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. In addition, each project day incorporated an educational component ranging from evening journal exercise to developing leadership skills to learning about the different careers that are around Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now that the stage has been set, here’s a recap of this crew’s 12-day experience!

After everyone arrived on Monday, the crew spent the rest of the day setting up and learning about camp expectations. Tommy and Morgan, the Field Coordinators and HSLC Leaders, emphasized Leave No Trace and ‘Leader of the Day’ expectations and responsibilities. The leader of the day program gave members an opportunity to act as a leader, which entailed waking up members and preparing them for the day and being expected to step into leadership roles as needed throughout the day. They were also expected to provide a journal prompt at the end of the evening that was based on what the crew did that work day or how the lessons or camp life has affected them.

Once Monday passed and camp was set up, Tuesday was set to be the first day of work. The HSLC crew’s first task was a litter pick up. The crew spent the morning walking around the Bear Lake parking lot picking up trash left behind. When that was completed, we hiked down to the Glacier Gorge trailhead where one group cleaned up the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, while others kept moving forward until they got to Alberta Falls. During the morning litter pick up, the crew picked up seven pounds of trash ! This may not sound like a lot, but considering the majority is about the size of a gum wrapper it was a very successful day. That afternoon, after the crew ate lunch and discussed about the project, the crew went back to Bear Lake and hiked up to Dream Lake, stopping at Nymph along the way.

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Cyrus, Kinara, Nate and Odin working to collect trash on the Glacier Gorge trail.

From Wednesday through Friday, the HSLC worked with Rocky’s Vegetation Crew (Veg Crew). The crew spent multiple days working to help eradicate a few different invasive species that plague the park. On Wednesday morning, the crew met with Grace and Kate at the volunteer office where they completed introductions and learned the task for the day: pulling Russian Thistle around the Moraine Park Discovery Center. This plant is what commonly becomes tumbleweed and can spread up to 250,000 seeds per plant, so the crew’s job was to do the best we could to completely remove it from the area. After a morning of vegetation, we met with Geoff Elliot, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s Director of Conservation, and he gave us a Behind the Scenes Tour of Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters. This allowed the crew to explore a multitude of departments housed within the National Park Service that included the Wilderness office, Volunteer In Parks office, and Law Enforcement/Search and Rescue offices, the Park greenhouse, and the Fire Cache where the crew learned a little about fire mitigation and prevention.

On Thursday, the HSLC crew again met with the Veg Crew at Moraine Park Discovery Center, but this time the group traveled to the transit station and walked up the Bierstadt Lake trail. The HSLC used a grid system to locate and eliminate invasive species. Within this system, members all spread out an arm’s length apart and worked to walk as straight as possible.  The goal that day was to pick Mullein. This is a long-stemmed plant with yellow flowers that when they mature can grow up to 6 feet high. This was a tiring project because of the uneven ground, but it was very rewarding when finished.

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Crew members working to locate the invasive Mullein within our grid pattern.

That afternoon Field Coordinator Morgan gave a lesson on plant identification around Rocky Mountain National Park where the members learned how to use a dichotomous key and specific ways in which one may differentiate different plant families.  Everyone then travelled to the Field Institute and participated in a resume workshop. The crew worked together to learn how to build a strong resume, describe their experience here in the park, and how to tailor their resumes for specific jobs. We were also able to explore conservation job boards and federal hiring resources. That evening the HSLC attended Campfire Ghost Stories with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy – Field Institute, where the members learned what life was like for a trapper in the 1800s. The story was very engaging, and the trapper ended the evening by making us a fire with flint and brush for s’mores.

Friday, the HSLC spent their last day working with the Veg Crew. This time the crew was working on the South Moraine Park trail  attacking Musk Thistle and Houndstongue. These two plants are two of the most troublesome in the park because they are transported around the park through animals. We spent all morning pulling a significant amount of these two plants over a quarter mile of trail.

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Corps member, Aiden, displaying his eradicted Houndstounge. We removed the flowering heads from the site to prevent any seed germination.

When the crew finished, they thanked Grace leading the week and went back to camp to prepare for a tour with Geoff of Trail Ridge Road that afternoon. The HSLC learned about the history of Trail Ridge Road and about the Tundra ecosystem it crosses. Geoff discussed how it can be heavily impacted by people if they are not attentive to what they are doing or where they are walking. Geoff emphasized the fragility of the system, and the kids learned first hand how harsh the Tundra winds can be. He had all the kids lay close to the ground and understand why plants can’t grow too high laterally to avoid the winds.

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The crew enjoying the mountainous view from Forest Canyon Overlook, a pitstop on our tour of Trail Ridge Road and the tundra ecosystem.

Over the weekend, to everybody’s enjoyment, they got to sleep in later than our usual 6:45am start. The HSLC went back over Trail Ridge to explore the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park and to see how the ecosystems change when you travel to the west side of the mountains. This side receives more moisture, and there was a significant shift in ecosystem types. The crew went for a short hike up the East Inlet trail to Adam’s Falls where they hung out for a while and learned a little about trail features they may see in the future. The group then drove down by Grand Lake and ate lunch and relaxed for a while. Once lunch was complete, they loaded up the cars and drove into the town of Grand Lake where everyone got to do some exploring at eat some ice cream from the legendary Dairy King. The HSLC then drove back to Estes Park and got settled for the evening and made dinner before playing a few good games of ninja and talking about what the next day and week were going to entail.

Sunday was a big day, this was the first time the members got to shower and do laundry since they had been in the program. Once everyone showered and relaxed, the HSLC headed back to the Field Institute and did a leadership test. This test was designed to use the members answers to personality questions to classify them into broad categories. This test is a good way to learn about how best to work with others, and how different personality types handle situations and problem solving. The HSCL also talked about the five stages of group development otherwise known as Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. Before starting the second week, Tommy and Morgan discussed the next week by outlining the basic project, building a bridge on the Lion Gulch Trail.

For the second week, the HSLC spent their time with the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers (PWV). The Lion Gulch Trail was heavily affected by the 2013 floods and both the PWV and the US Forest Service have been working hard to restore this trail to the public. The HSLC members were tasked with one of the final projects, a bridge to mitigate impact on the stream below. This was an amazing project that was both very rewarding and tiring. On the first day, the crew spent the morning digging sand and dirt to “armor” the trail, which means covering the rocks we gathered, cutting logs, and building rock ramps. The mighty crew also moved 23-foot logs to where the bridge was to be placed. This was very difficult and took nearly everyone on the project to carry. Once the logs were moved, the crew built the supports for the logs to sit on.

Slideshow:

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Alina, working with the crosscut saw to cut logs to length so we could use them to stabilize the bridge.

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Rylee and Larson working together to safely move rocks to the bridge in order to armor the edge and provide additional trail stability.

 

On Tuesday, the crew set the logs in place. This took some time, as the crew needed to get them properly placed and then cut notches, so the logs would sit flush. Once that was accomplished, the crew split into two groups. One group was helping to build large rock abutments to ensure the structure would be stable and strong and the other continued to notch the logs to convert the rounded surface into flat and easily walkable stretches of logs. The crew also spent significant time constructing ramps leading up to the bridge and carrying out debris that was washed down the stream from the flood.

Slideshow:

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Members Nate, Larson, and Odin using hand saws to notch the top of the bridge logs to create a walk-able surface.

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All hands on deck to use log tongs in order to lift the main stringer on top of our base.

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Jerzey using a single jack to hammer in rebar to the main logs.

On Wednesday, the HSLC crew finished the bridge! They spent the day planking the logs and pounding in the rebar to ensure that the logs wouldn’t move when walked across. The crew also spent more time solidifying the abutments and finding the proper rocks to make the walk up to the bridge safe and easy on all those who hiked on the trail in the future. Finishing the bridge was a huge accomplishment that all who helped were excited about and happy to have gotten done.

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The entire crew and our Poudre Wilderness Volunteer Lead, Mike, standing on top of the finished bridge.

When Thursday came around the crew spent the day doing more traditional trail work. This entailed digging drains and building rock structures to divert water off the trail. They also worked to close part of the old trail that has since been rerouted. This was interesting because rather than moving trees or branches off the trail, the members were putting them on the trail to make it difficult to attempt to walk across, sending people down the new rerouted section of the trail. The crew then broke into groups one group went with the PWV lead and worked on clearing and making new drains while the other stayed behind to churn up the dirt so that some future volunteers could come through and drop grass seeds and transplant native flowers in hopes of restoring the old section of the trail. This day was great as it showed the participants what a typical day in trail work is like and that it isn’t all bridge building.

The end of the day was filled with a mix of emotions as people were excited to go back to their lives but were sad that they weren’t going to be around their new friends anymore. That night the crew celebrated after dinner with a campfire and s’mores for everyone. Members spent time reflecting on our experiences and all we had learned.

On the last morning the HSLC packed up around the campsite and brought everything back to the Field Institute. Tommy and Morgan conducted exit interviews with each member, while others helped with gear clean up. The HSLC program ended with a cook out for all the participants and their families. They were able to spend time with their families and introduce each other. It was great to hear everyone buzzing about their highlights and favorite projects.

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The Conservancy would like to thank all the family and friends who supported the crew members throughout their time with us.

Additionally, thank you to all of those who have purchased the Rocky Mountain National Park License Plate. If it wasn’t for your donation, this amazing opportunity wouldn’t exist!

Thank you to all that participated!

-Morgan Cannon & Tommy E (Field Coordinators/HSLC Leaders)

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Inaugural High School Leadership Corps!

Hi Everyone!

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.

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Crew member look on as they learn how to properly plant various native grasses and other plants.

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.

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Grace, Grace, and Kayla showing off all the trash they found.

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From left to right: Dalton, Luc, Zeke, Quinn and Geoff up Lumpy Ridge with the clompers and trash buckets.

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.

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Leader Geoff and crew member Luc working together to stabilize the slash pile.

 

 

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

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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!

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A mix of the HSLC and the RMC-CC at Bierstadt Lake.

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Grace moving some dead trees onto a social trail.

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.

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Luke, Grace, an Kayla work to hammer in the boardwalk.

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The final product holding everyone up!

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Just a little s’more time together.

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!

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The gang at the East Inlet! From Left to Right: Jordan, Brandon, Luc, Grace, Curtis, Zeke, Kayla, Grace, Quinn, and Dalton.

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After two long weeks, the parents and the crew members are reunited!

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)