In a league all of its own, West Denver Preparatory’s Lake Campus (WDP) has risen to the challenge to meet the needs of Denver’s burgeoning inner-city demographics. The students at WDP are offered an excellent education and are shown that success later in life and getting into college starts as early as middle school. This spring the Cottonwood Institute is proud to continue their partnership with WDP by leading two overnight camping trips.
The first trip in mid-April turned out to be more of a winter experience than spring. But with the encouragement of our amazing instructors and WDP veteran teacher, Leigh Garrison, we pushed on. To cope with the forecasts of snow and rain, we stayed in a cabin at Highlands Camp near Allenspark, Colorado. In spite of the cold, the group had tremendous energy and we spent the day exploring the area, learning new plants and animals, navigating streams, smelling pine trees, and building survival shelters. A few times throughout the day we stopped and listened, contemplating the thick clouds that sunk over the mountains. Students heard, perhaps for the first time in their life, the sound of utter silence… uncluttered by the noise of automobiles, the hum of airplanes, the clatter of television… only stillness. It is tremendously important for the future leaders of our world to know what this sounds like.
When we woke up in the morning, the ground was covered in snow. The morning stories of animals were marked clearly with fresh tracks. We followed coyotes, foxes, deer, elk, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, and prairie dogs as their trails wound through the forest and intertwined. Just as we packed the last backpack into the van to come back to civilization, the true storm hit and we drove out as thick snowflakes whirled to the ground.
You would think the second trip, held just last weekend, would offer warmer weather than the first. But once again we were greeted with forecasts of rain and snow, and this time, accompanied by Danielle Matthews, a talented math teacher new to WDP, we toughed it out. No cabins, just the warmth, or lack there-of, in our tents and sleeping bags, and a wood-burning stove. The night before, our campsite at Calwood had been covered in snow, but the weather held off for most of our trip. After setting up camp, we learned how to use our eyes differently in the forest, and to expand our senses. Later in the evening, we sat around a hot stove, told stories, talked about different ways we could survive in the outdoors, and learned that panic is the most dangerous reaction that can happen in the wilderness. Once it was dark, the group decided to challenge and master their fears with the blind-drum stalk. The students wandered out into the forest wearing a blindfold, and then made their way back without their eyes by following the sound of a beating drum. Terrified at first, they gradually learned to use their other senses and stay calm in the darkness.
The next morning, we went to work on our service project stacking recently-cut wood to prevent severe forest fires in the area. The group formed a human chain and worked for two hours moving log-rounds. After a weekend full of laughter and good memories, we packed up, reluctantly returning to the city.
And we are not done yet. Cottonwood Institute will continue its relationship with WDP over the summer months, teaming up with Mission: Wolf for a 4 day, 3 night adventure at a wolf sanctuary near Gardner, CO. We will also be collaborating with City Wild for a one day rafting excursion down the South Platte River in Denver. Don’t you wish you went to West Denver Prep?
Written by Clark Patton. Edited by April Pishna
Imagine a place where kids roam with the wolves and sounds of giggles fit right in with the howls. Strange? Maybe, but to Mission:Wolf staff and volunteers, this is just another day on the job. And for the 18 kids and 3 teachers from Logan School, it became part of the normal routine as we enjoyed 4 days at this extraordinary place last May. Mission: Wolf is a wolf sanctuary that houses around 40 wolves and wolf-dogs that people can no longer care for. Located just outside of Westcliffe, CO in a remote setting, it offers visitors a chance to not only connect with animals, but nature as well.
It is this connection that brings Cottonwood Institute courses and Mission:Wolf together to offer Logan School students a chance of a lifetime. We spent 4 fun-filled, very active days, and 3 restful, yet chilly nights at Mission: Wolf. While there, students got to meet the wolves, feed the wolves, plant trees, and help with landscaping projects. They learned about tracking and the stories behind animal tracks. They learned how to start fires using cottonballs and only one match. Marshmallows were eaten around the campfire, while billions of stars gazed down upon us. We worked hard, ate dinner late, woke up early and did it all again the next day. Every day, while action-packed, also offered time to reflect on the wolves and all the activities and games we played as well as all the projects we accomplished. One student stated, “This is so cool. We get to eat lunch when we would normally be getting home from school and we get to eat dinner when we would normally be going to bed.” Ah, the excitement of the little things when you are 10.
Yet, I haven’t even mentioned the coolest things. 1) We were kissed by the wolves and best stated by one of the kids, “I’ve kissed a dog, now I kissed a wolf.” The students, along with the teachers, and Cottonwood Institute instructors, did not stop smiling from the memory of this until sleep stole it from our lips. I do believe the wolves were even smiling. 2) We helped butcher a horse. Yes, you heard me right. When nearby ranchers have a horse that dies, they donate the body to Mission:Wolf to help feed the wolves. It just so happened that we were there at the right time to help with this unique chance to fully understand the circle of life. I was so impressed with all the students and teachers when it came time to help with this gruesome task, but their level of understanding of the importance of this was way beyond what I would have expected from high schoolers, let alone 3rd and 4th graders. We were so lucky to have this opportunity. And one quote – quite funny – that I will never forget came from an elegant little girl, quite proper, but very hard working and focused, “I chipped my nail while butchering a horse.” Not many people get to say that!
After wheelbarrow rides, an exhilarating blind drumstalk activity, getting stuck in the mud on the way in, sticky marshmallow fingers, hot dogs around the fire, grimy fingers, campfire stories, survival skills, wolf kisses, horse butchering, walking like animals, stomping on each others feet, throwing meat over fences, digging holes, listening to coyote yips, finding bones, and oh so much more fun, we were exhausted, yet content. And so on a very foggy and very chilly morning, we packed up our home for the past 4 days, blew one last kiss to the wolves, and bid farewell to our new friends. Until next time, keep howling!
Click here for a slideshow of our adventures.
Logan School 3rd graders had quite an adventure with the Cottonwood Institute last month. On May 9th a group of 18 eager students, 3 remarkable teachers and 2 able bodied Cottonwood Institute instructors embarked on an epic road trip. It took them throughout the wilds in and around Denver and up to the windy prairie of Pawnee National Grasslands, learning about the local and exotic visiting winged friends the entire way.
They started with an excellent program on bird migration with the Audubon Center at Chatfield State Park. Here they learned the amazing distances some birds travel and the obstacles they face migrating from the South American rainforests through the U.S. and on to Canada. Next up was an amazing experience visiting the Wild Bird Rehab center in Denver where the group helped out by building disposable birds nests out of toilet paper for new hatchlings being raised at the center. To end their day, they traveled north to the Pawnee National Grasslands to set up base camp and enjoy a beautiful evening on the prairie.
The second day the group saw many species of birds as they walked, played and drove through the grasslands. Kingbirds were a constant companion, along with Mourning Doves and the sounds of Killdeer. Flocks of the Colorado state bird, the Lark Bunting, greeted them on the drive and many Red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks were spotted along the way. In addition to birds, there were several encounters with snakes: a Western Racer was caught and examined as it zipped through camp, a huge Gopher snake wandered through a sit-spot later in the day and a beautiful corn snake was part of the evening presentation. Nature’s Educators brought several animals to present on bird evolution and identification. The Harris’ Hawk and Screech Owl were group favorites.
As the evening program ended the wind began and a front blew out onto the prairie with gusts over 40 mph! It was a harrowing evening for some; facing the power of the wind. Only one tent was damaged in the wind storm and there was an impromptu slumber party in the campground lean-to! Everyone got some sleep and the next day took the group through Boulder for a rainy hike with a local bird expert from Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. There they saw power-diving Hummingbirds and singing Towhee in the wet, green, landscape. From Boulder the group headed home to Denver to enjoy a new found comfort in their warm windproof homes and will continue spotting the amazing jungle birds that fly through our region in the spring.
Many thanks to all of the inspiring and educational partners on this trip!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventure!
What do you see when you think of Easter Weekend? Is it brightly colored eggs, frilly pink dresses and blue ties, maybe even a spiral cut ham coated with brown sugar? For a group of boys from Casa de la Esperanza, a Boulder County Housing Community in Longmont, their memories now include an adventure at Heil Valley Ranch outside of Boulder.
The day was spent trotting after turkeys, climbing over rocks, listening to stories, playing team building and leadership games, and learning about survival and nature awareness. While the boys were thrilled with those activities, the coolest adventure of the day was discovering an actual archeological site chock full of flint chips. After making their own rock paintings to tell their story (using environmentally friendly “paint” that will wash off in the next rain, of course) it was time to head back home.
The only complaint, “We left so quick.” If you want a taste of nature, go on a day hike. If you want the full course, go camping. Thanks to our donors, these kids get another adventure this summer, giving them the opportunity to experience nature up close and overnight – we get to go camping!
So, until next time, remember Easter eggs and spiral cut ham, but also remember the turkeys, the rocks, and all the adventures that nature provides.
Click here for a slideshow of the day’s adventures!
“Ask Questions, Make Mistakes, and Get Dirty!”
In the second half of the 2011-12 school year the Earth Task Force (ETF), sponsored by the Cottonwood Institute, teamed up with the Science Adventure Program (SAP) for games, mentoring, and exploration.
SAP is an after school program for elementary school students, which inspires student to: “Ask questions, make mistakes, and get dirty!” The idea to team up with a younger group of students grew out of the ETF Fall retreat when ETFers expressed interest in tiered learning and mentoring, in order to connect more with their world. This year the multi-generational group of students went on three different adventures together to explore their community.
In February they went to the C.U. Museum of Natural History for an afternoon of fun, games, and education. After a name game outside they headed into the museum to explore dinosaurs, pine beetles, smog, pollinators and more.
Both the ETF and SAP members shared ages, favorite projects, and why they love nature. Aaron Fox (ETF alumni) showed off his famous super hero costume and explained how ETF teaches students about the importance of the environment while being fun and silly. All of the SAP members shared inspiring reasons why they love nature and told the ETF about the time they saw their teacher, Ms. Muskrat’s, python eat a whole rat! Both the high school students and the elementary students were nervous to meet each other. The nerves didn’t last long though…
In March, ETF and SAP met up on SAP’s home turf near their elementary school. SAP students challenged the ETF to a nature scavenger hunt and ETF challenged SAP to clean up the creek as they walked along. At the end of the outdoor exploration, the students returned to SAP headquarters to meet Freddy Mercury, the Ball Python, the backyard hens, and more.
In April, ETF and SAP celebrated spring with a hula-hooping lesson on New Vista High School’s front lawn. Any tired teachers leaving school at the end of that day had their spirits lifted by multi-generational hula-hooping tricks!
ETF plans to continue their relationship with SAP into next year, expanding on this great new program with new mentoring ideas, shared service projects, and more.
Learn more about the Science Adventure Program here: http://www.scienceadventureprogram.com/
Written by Remy Barrows-O’Neil and Paige Doughty
The Cottonwood Institute’s 2012 Base Camp Bash was a rockin’ success. On Saturday, April 28th, 2012, Artwork Network was transformed from an art gallery into a vibrant base camp packed with outdoor enthusiasts who gathered to help raise money for the Cottonwood Institute’s 2012 programs to connect underserved kids to the outdoors and empower them to tackle local environmental issues.
Thanks to our patrons, sponsors, and attendees, we were able to raise over $40,000 to help support our projects with West Denver Preparatory Charter School, Casa de la Esperanza, New Vista High School, Lakewood High School, and Operation: Military Kids.
Snooze tantalized our taste buds with their delicious food and s’mores pancakes, Wynkoop Brewing Company, Mondo Vino, and Leopold Bros. cleansed our palates with their beer, wine, and local spirits, while The Cottonwood Trio set the tone for the night with their rocking’ tunes as everyone was whipped into a bidding frenzy for our amazing auction.
In addition to the Bash, we had a fabulous Patron Party on Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 for our patrons and sponsors at the private home of Stephen and Genie Waters. The Acker Jazztet played live Dixieland jazz, while we sipped on southern cocktails from Steuben’s and devoured Po-Boys, Jambalaya, and Shrimp Maison.
But it all started with the Kick Off Party on Friday, March 30th, 2012 when 5280 Magazine and Wynkoop Brewing Company hosted a fun party to kick off Earth Month and unveil their limited-edition Cottonwood Organic White beer to benefit the Cottonwood Institute and our programs.
We could not have pulled everything off without the amazing support of our donors, patrons, and sponsors, including: 5280 Magazine, Wynkoop Brewing Company, Snooze, the Taddonio Family Foundation, Colorado Business Bank, Messner & Reeves, St. Charles Capital, Climax Molybdenum, CASI, Artwork Network, and Ownership Transfer Planning, Inc.
If you were not able to attend and still want to help support our programs, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today, by Clicking Here.
To check out a slide show of all three events, Click Here.