Instructors Get Outside to Learn and Play Together

August 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Program News

DSCF1165DSCF1159DSCF1161“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

New and returning instructors met up on a sunny Saturday morning in August to head to the hills together, spending the day learning and freshening up on Cottonwood Institute’s core curriculum at CI’s Fall Instructor Training. After quick introductions in Boulder, the crew of 8 educators packed into a couple of cars and caravanned up Left Hand Canyon to Cal-Wood Education Center. As they drove through Jamestown, the instructors were struck by how the town remained devastated by the floods from almost a year ago. Over the past year, Cottonwood Institute has spent more time on programs focusing on the ecological and social impacts of natural disasters. Seeing the affects on the town and landscape of Jamestown inspired valuable discussions among the instructors for how to continue incorporating lessons on preparation, response, and recovery in the wake of wildfires and floods.

Once at Cal-Wood, the day was jam-packed with games, activities, lessons, and discussions to prepare the instructors for fall programs and beyond. Here are a few of the highlights: CI Instructor Rachael Jaffe led an attunement called “Connections” to help everyone get to know each other; Program Coordinator Katie Craig guided the group through a 360 degree awareness activity; Program Director Madeline Bachner led exhilarating games of “Ninja!” and “PDQ”; CI Instructor Jessi Burg guided the group in a relaxing sit spot and a fun game of Camouflage; CI Instructor Sandy Chervenak taught the group new ways to help students “bust a coal” with bowdrills; and everyone contributed towards providing ideas for new ways to reflect and debrief with groups.

A big high five and thank you to all of the instructors who contributed to such a fun, inspiring, empowering, and educational one-day training. Cottonwood Institute is fortunate to have such an amazing group of instructors!

Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend here:

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College of Menominee Nation Examines Floods and Fires in Colorado

20140814_110116Cottonwood Institute was excited to collaborate with the College of Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in a unique Fire and Flood Project exploring the foothills and gaining a deeper understanding of fire, water, and flood issues in Colorado. After an early morning pick-up at DIA, a group of 17 from Wisconsin, began their trip at The Alliance Center in Denver, CO, the hub for sustainability in Colorado. The Sustainability Leadership Cohort (SLC), as the group is known, heard from local sustainability experts to learn more about fire and water issues facing Colorado. With full bellies after a lunch from Smiling Moose Deli, the crew packed up and headed to Cal-wood Education Center just outside of Jamestown, CO, for the next 5 days and 4 nights.

20140817_063209The participants spent their first morning indulging in the finest of instant coffee and no-name oats and granola. They welcomed the morning with a “sit spot”, at Solitude Point, taking in the beautifully rugged landscape of the Colorado Rockies. In the afternoon the group left on an educational driving tour through Gold Hill and Fourmile Canyon. The group learned basic fire ecology while walking through a burn area near Goldhill and as an afernoon thunderstorm drenched the landscape, they watched in awe as fresh water cascaded down the canyon with them as they drove. It was a unique opportunity to witness the power of mother nature, and see the relationship between the fires and floods of Colorado.
20140815_155335The SLC spent the next day re-opening the Mika Mine Trail at Cal-Wood Education Center. It was a hard days work hammering away, building new stairs for the trail. With sore backs and newly blistered hands, the crew finished out the day cooling off in a near-by creek! The following day they traveled down to Lyons to do volunteer work for the community which has been visibly devastated by the flood. A group broke down and rescued re-usable materials from a collapsed greenhouse, while the rest were picking up debris and clearing out sediment that was deposited during the flood.

The following morning they shared their final meal at the campsite, sat and appreciated the quiet wisdom of the mountains, and then returned to Boulder for clean-up. For their closing initiative they met with Jeff Morisette from Rising Voices, a program through the North Central Climate Science Center. 20140815_203638_LLSHe led an inspiring conversation about the collaborative efforts being made to integrate indigenous knowledge and “western” science to combat climate change.

The days were packed full of laughter, learning, and wilderness. As a group they learned how to work hard and build together. They learned about the elements and chaotic weather patterns of the Rockies. They learned how to not shower and still survive; to conserve water, to remember to breathe at 8,000 feet, and build community around a fire.

“This will definitely be on the top of my ‘greatest experiences in my life’ list!”.  – Cherie

“I am so humbled and in awe of this experience and these amazing young people I got a chance to get to know. It makes me feel good for the future of the world to know that there are people like this becoming adults soon. Colorado is amazing and our trip was epic.” – Justin, adult participant

20140816_092146It was a beautiful exchange between Cottonwood and SDI, and we hope that the relationships built will continue in the future. Many thanks to all who made this trip a success: Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Your Water Colorado, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado State Forest Service, Project Learning TreeSmiling Moose DeliCal-wood Education Center, Town of Lyons Volunteers, DOI North Central Climate Science Center, our Cottonwood Institute Instructors, and the remarkable natural world that continually teaches us everything we really need to know.


To see more pictures from this trip visit our Share Site:

Article Written By: Marissa Sieck, Cottonwood Institute Instructor

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Come Throwdown At The Throwdown!

July 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News

RegisterIt’s go time people! The Throwdown, our annual charity cornhole tournament to benefit Cottonwood Institute, is a little over a week away on Saturday, August 9th, 2014 from 11am – 5pm at City Park in Denver, CO.

Come hang out for the day in beautiful City Park, play a few games of cornhole, enjoy amazing food from Chipotle and Pizza Fusion, craft beer from Living The Dream Brewing Company, win some incredible prizes from OtterBox, play some fun side games, and network with some amazing people.

REGISTER TODAY! We only have room for a few more teams and registration will close promptly at 5:00pm MT on Friday, August 8th, 2014. For all of the gory details and to register, Click Here.

Cornhole Throwdown For $250, you can become a Throwdown VIP! We know, it’s kind of a big deal. In addition to some pretty amazing benefits, if you register as a VIP by Friday, August 1st, 2014, 1 lucky VIP team will win a round trip Uber ride up to $50 each way! And don’t forget about the serious bragging rights you will have with your friends and co-workers.


Check out the following sponsors that helped make this event possible and  support businesses that support local nonprofits like Cottonwood Institute:

$1,000 LEVEL:


Living The Dream Brewing Company



$500 LEVEL:


Climax Molybdenum

Kelly & Walker

MegaStar Financial

$250 LEVEL:

Bohica Boards

McLure Hill


Pizza Fusion

Samuel Engineering

Specialized Automation Services, LLC


If you can’t attend, we will only talk about you for a little while behind your back. But if you still want to help, please consider making a secure, tax-deductible donation by Clicking Here.

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Leprino Foods Corporate Outing Ignites Fires and New Ideas

July 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Program News

20140724_155726Cottonwood Institute had a great time on a one-day outing with Leprino Foods last week. This corporate team-building and survival skills day took participants up to White Ranch Open Space outside of Golden where they bonded over games and competed in team activities from fire building to sit-spots and shelters to the circle of metaphor.

The group spent the day connecting with each other and exploring new experiences both inward and outward. Some favorites included a few quiet minutes in sit-spots to center and take in the many senses of being outdoors and away from the office. Juxtaposing this quiet activity were the fire skills in20140724_143549 which teams used strikers to light cotton balls and learn the basics of fire. Then they moved up to one-match bundles and lighting full fire lays in fire pits. This was definitely a favorite activity from the day and provided a great outlet for the pyros in the group!

Another team activity was debris shelters in which teams of four spent a slim thirty-minutes creating a survival shelter from downed debris and pine needles. Each team had their own style of working and creating. Points were kept, but at the end of the day everyone felt they had ‘won’ by learning more about their co-workers and spending some quality non-office time together.

20140724_145032They wrapped up the day with a group reflection in which many valuable insights were shared. After the short trip back down to Golden, the group enjoyed a few beverages from Cannonball Creek Brewing before heading home with new ideas from this great day in the field.


Check out more photos from the day on our share site:

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Summer Nature Series with Casa de la Esperanza Comes to a Close

It’s been a great summer of events with Casa de la Esperanza. From hiking and rattlesnakes to games and camping, starry skies and watermelon on the playground we learned and played a lot with the Casa Community this summer!

We started it off with a group gathering to plan and discuss the community’s needs for the two outings this summer. Our day hike in June was a fun trip to South Mesa Trail Head in Boulder. We involved several parents along with a great group of students from the Casa de la Esperanza community.

Then in July many of the same students joined us again for an overnight camping trip up at Cal-Wood Education Center. The group had a great time learning low impact camping techniques, playing a few games of camouflage, and exploring the area, including a side trip to Heil Valley Ranch to get in a little extra hiking and check out a new spot.  They especially enjoyed spending time laying on the ground watching the night sky unfold above them.IMG_1971

Back at Casa de la Esperanza in Longmont we wrapped up the Summer Nature Series with a picnic of BBQ and everyone’s’ summer favorite; watermelon. The kids enjoyed the “feast” while a few parents and staff chatted about the outings and what we could do next with the community and their growing young population. Cottonwood Institute looks forward to hosting more events and getting more students from Casa de la Esperanza out into the woods and the wild.

Many thanks to our partners at Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks, Cal-Wood Education Center, our wonderful instructors, donors, and foundation supporters including Brett Family Foundation and Community Foundation Serving Boulder County for making this project possible!

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Spring in Review: A Mid Year Programming Update

July 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Program News

We’ve been busy here at Cottonwood Institute this spring! Take a look at this fun slideshow of many of our spring 2014 programs with Colorado Academy, Colorado Youth for a Change, Johnson & Wales University, Littleton Academy, Logan School, New Vista High School, and STRIVE Preparatory Schools.

To learn more about past, current, and future programs, check out the Cottonwood Institute Blog and Programs Page!

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Fossils, Fun, and Camping with Military Kids and Families

July 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Military Kids Project, Program News

DSC_6629A bus full of excited and energetic military families emerges from the traffic and craziness of the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs into the wonder that is Colorado wilderness. Thanks to Sanborn Western Camps and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, these amazing families and their instructors learned not only about nature awareness and camping, but more importantly about silly campfire songs, s’mores, and even how to make their own spoons.

As we piled out of the bus the first morning, we were in awe of the beauty and peace surrounding our home for the weekend. As soon as we set up camp and ate a hearty lunch, we worked on a service project for Sanborn Western Camps to say thanks for letting us camp on their land. Through teamwork, we built a magnificent fire pit and benches so that others may also enjoy the beauty we found while here. We delved right into Cottonwood Institute’s core curriculum of nature awareness, sit spots, and the always popular game of camouflage, all enveloped with many smiles and lots of laughter. DSC_6688

Appetites satisfied and ready for some campfire fun, we were entertained with music and stories from special guests Ranger Jeff Wolin and Cottonwood Institute’s very own Executive Director, Ford Church. As the sun gave way to the stars, and tired, yet happy faces were sticky with marshmallows, a five year old summed up the day quite nicely, “Daddy. I had a fun day, but it’s not fair. I only got 11 marshmallows, and all the other kids got 12.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

After a pleasant evening, we all awoke fresh, ready to take on the Florissant Fossil Beds. Did you know that Colorado had redwood trees 34 million years ago, and they are now fossilized? We didn’t either. Thanks to Ranger Scott and Ranger Amanda, we learned all about fossilization and the many stories surrounding this wondrous area. We even got to be the first people ever to see the insides of shale (rock) being split open. It was exciting to know that we might be the first to see a newly discovered fossil from millions of years ago.

But, too soon it was time to go. Through partnerships and teamwork, this course brought many people together forging new friendships and creating lifelong memories. DSC_6701Thanks to our partners, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Sanborn Western Camps, we listened to rocks and smelled trees.

View and download pictures of the Military Kids Project with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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Written by April Pishna, Cottonwood Institute Instructor

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Casa de la Esperanza Explores South Boulder Trails and Finds la Serpiente de Cascabel

July 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Casa de la Esperanza, Program News

Casa de la Esperanza had a great day hiking with Cottonwood Institute last weekend as part of their Summer Nature Awareness Series. After the ride down from Longmont, participants packed up lunch, played a few name games and were ready to start learning. Juanita from Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) joined them at the South Mesa Trailhead and proceeded to lead a bi-lingual nature and hiking lesson for the first part of the day. The group learned about OSMP land use, native plants, animals and some day-hiking basics.

Within the first half-mile of the hike the group heard a rattle snake (la serpiente de cascabel) by the trail. Everyone was able to spot it in the grass, from a safe distance and alerted other hikers to the danger and great wildlife site. For many it was the first rattlesnake they had seen or heard. It made for an exciting start to the hike! On the way up the group also spotted many plants from beautiful prickly pears in bloom to yucca and native grasses. Insects and spiders caught the attention of several participants while birds were what others were looking out for. The sweet smell of ponderosa pines on a hot summer day delighted many, but not more than the shade they provided. After lunch along the trail the group headed up just a little further toward Shadow Canyon before deciding the heat required a stop by the stream on the way back. Down the trail they went taking in the last views of Eldorado Canyon, Devils Thumb and the sweeping plains to the East.

After cooling their feet in the icy water of South Boulder Creek the group played a final game of camouflage before riding back up to Boulder. Back at Casa de la Esperanza everyone was tired from a long day of hiking and filled with stories and excitement. Stay tuned for news from the family overnight camping trip in July that wraps up the Summer Nature Awareness Series with Casa de la Esperanza.

View and download pictures of Casa de la Esperanza’s many adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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Written by Madeline Bachner, Cottonwood Institute Instructor and Program Director

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Logan School Students Learn and Grow at Mission: Wolf

June 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Logan School, Mission: Wolf, Program News

IMG_6233In late May, a group of students from Logan School for Creative Learning participated in the Endangered Wolves Project with Cottonwood Institute. Cottonwood Institute instructors Kristin and Brian led the Logan School students, teachers, and chaperones to Mission: Wolf, a horse and wolf sanctuary located across the valley from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Westcliffe, Colorado. During their three nights and four days at Mission: Wolf, the students met wolves, played games, completed service work, learned about the ecosystem, practiced primitive survival skills, camped, and enjoyed time with each other.

These third and fourth graders came to Mission: Wolf with an impressive amount of knowledge about environmental studies, especially trophic cascade. Trophic cascade explains how a top predator in an ecosystem effects seemingly disparate species. For example, the eradication of wolves in the Rocky Mountains negatively impacted species such as elk, willows, fish, and songbirds. By coming into the program with pre-existing knowledge of trophic cascade, the Logan School students could begin to more fully understand the controversy surrounding wolf reintroduction by empathizing with various stakeholders.

Having such a strong base of knowledge also motivated the students while completing their service work. All of their projects give back to the wolves in many ways. Projects like fixing fences directly help the wolves so that the wolves stay safe in their homes and do not cut themselves on stray wire. Projects like moving soil to improve the trails indirectly help the wolves by improving experiences for other visitors at Mission: Wolf. One of the most intriguing, memorable, and impactful service projects was helping with the big feed! The students were fortunate that their trip aligned with the wolves’ big feed day, so many students were able to help cut up fresh meat and throw it to the wolves from a safe distance.

In return for working hard on many projects, the students were invited to go inside the wolf pens and meet the “ambassador wolves”. The students will never forget petting a wolf, looking into its eyes, and letting it lick their teeth as a greeting!

Among the highlights of the program were the games and activities that connected the students to the natural world like sit spots, Camouflage, hiking to the top of a nearby mountain, and simply enjoying the beauty surrounding them. During reflection, students raved about their experience as a whole. What a wonderful way to end the school year! Thank you to Logan School teachers and students, Mission: Wolf volunteers, and Cottonwood Institute instructors for such an amazing experience!

Logan School Student, age 10, reflects on their experiences at Mission: Wolf

Logan School Student, age 10, reflects on their experiences at Mission: Wolf

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STRIVE Prep Sunnyside Hosts Bike to School Day

June 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Action Projects, Program News, STRIVE Prep

Sunnyside Bike to SchoolThis spring, over 20 students enrolled in Cottonwood Institute’s Mini-CAP course offered at STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside as an Enrichment course for students. All but three students were in the sixth grade, and together they learned about issues affecting their community and took action to improve some of the problems they observed.

Passionate about air quality in their city, the students wanted to learn more about alternative modes of transportation. Jenna Berman, the Education Director at Bicycle Colorado, visited the class to discuss the many benefits of commuting by bicycle for personal well being, building community, and environmental health. She also helped the students brainstorm how to sustain their project into the future. Jenna was really enthusiastic about helping connect students to the biking lifestyle – she even brought the students stickers and charm necklaces! For their culminating “Action Project” as part of mini-CAP, the students organized a Bike to School Day for STRIVE Prep Sunnyside. Students presented to the whole school about the event, telling their peers about the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint by riding their bike to school. They were also able to raise support from the local King Soopers and handed out breakfast to all students and teachers that arrived on a bike. It was great to see the entryway filled with bikes! The biggest reflection from such a fun event was what students articulated as the need to do a similar event more often. Thankfully, most of the participants are returning to Sunnyside next year and are excited to keep the Bike to School days happening!

Dorian Medina writes below about his experience in the Mini-CAP:

Going to Calwood for our camping trip was a really fun experience. The first thing we did was hike up to our campsite. It was longer than we expected, and it felt about like a mile long to walk there. It was really important to stay hydrated, and we played a fun game called the Waterfall Circle to help. After all of that we unloaded the van and set up our tents. The games we played were fun. We played Camouflage, and Bear-Fish-Mosquito. Camouflage is where you hide and the predator tries to spot you, the prey. One other fun activity was our night hike to the Mica mine. It was a great time!

Then we tried to stop pollution in the air. We asked people to ride their bikes to school, or walk or take the bus if they don’t bike. If they rode their bikes they received a reward when they got to school and will pollute less and save the earth! Doing the Cottonwood course was the best experience ever! The camping trip was tons of fun and it was fun to organize the Bike to School Day!

Sunnyside Bike to SchoolThanks to Cottonwood Institute for getting us outside and for helping us be advocates for our environment!

View and download pictures of STRIVE Prep’s many adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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Written by Jenny Nelson, Teacher at STRIVE Prep Sunnyside
Edited by Katie Craig

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