Imagine backpacking through the beautiful desert of Utah, living on nothing but raw foods consisting of fruits and nuts and having no tents or sleeping bags; only poncho shelters and your clothes to keep you warm. You may be hungry, tired, hot or cold at times, but the challenges make you enjoy being in this place even more. You look around at the oranges, yellows, and grays of the sandstone formations and take a deep breath of the dry, sagebrush-scented air. At night, you gaze into the galaxies and watch shooting stars in the dark desert sky. Oh to be living so simply in such a beautiful place!
This was the reality of nine enthusiastic seniors from Colorado Academy, their skilled teacher, and two Cottonwood Institute instructors. Instead of BBQing during Memorial Day weekend, this group spent five days testing their wilderness abilities and pushing themselves to the limit while participating in Cottonwood Institute’s first ever San Rafael Swell Go Light Backpacking Course.
Prior to starting, every backpacker had to weigh their pack to ensure that it was no more than nine pounds before the addition of food and water. Each day the group hiked five to twelve miles through dry washes and up canyons, using a compass and map to find the way. And thanks to Delorme and Engineered Travel, Cottonwood Institute had the honor of field-testing the inReach 2-way GPS device so our administrators were able to track their route from the office.
To break up the tediousness of long treks through the hot desert canyons, students learned to identify edible and medicinal plants and were even lucky enough to find ancient pictographs. When at camp, although exhausted, the group learned primitive survival skills including bowdrill fires, knife work, traps, wood spoon-making and milkweed cordage-making. Being completely in tune and immersed in the natural world was a highlight of the trip. One student stated, “It spawned a love for nature that will last for the rest of my life.” Overall, this course was very challenging but also quite rewarding for the students.
With the combined skills of Colorado Academy’s own, Chip Lee and our two amazing Cottonwood Institute Instructors, Paul Van Horn and Clark Patton, these nine students successfully completed a trek that most people will never experience. Knowing that they can push themselves past their limits is an invaluable tool to be used in all aspects of their lives. “I am shocked at what I have accomplished. My body can do so much more than I thought. I proved that my mind is the only thing that can keep me from doing anything.” (Colorado Academy Going Light Student)
What will you do next Memorial Day weekend?
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.
In late May, a group of high school boys from Colorado Academy took over Mission: Wolf (MW). Accompanied by their teacher, school principal and three Cottonwood Institute instructors, the boys enjoyed five technology free days learning about wolves and primitive skills, while working hard on several service learning projects. Located just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado, MW is home to rescued wolves and wolf-dogs. Staffed mainly by volunteers, visitors offer MW much needed help with day to day projects to keep the sanctuary running smoothly. If you want to be kissed by a wolf, you must do the work first.
Each morning began with a quote to lead into the daily activities. In the warm, windy weather the boys played team-building games, learned survival skills such as shelter building, how to make fire, animal tracking and nature awareness. They explored the diverse area on various hikes and worked hard to move granite, wood, and help with road-repairs to give back to MW. Most importantly, though, they found time for some “sick” hacky sackin’ sessions and of course, time with the wolves!
In addition to feeding the wolves, the boys also got the opportunity to butcher an entire horse! Local ranchers donate deceased horses to MW to help with the immense cost of feeding these amazing animals. This process gives students a unique experience in a true hands-on food cycle process. While it was quite bloody, it captivated the attention of the whole group, some becoming completely drawn into cutting up the horse while others preferred to simply watch. The process not only connected the group with the staff, but also the wolves, giving the boys an understanding of both the cycle of life and wolf pack dynamics.
While listening to the howl of the wolves, the students ended the course with a sit-spot to appreciate the beauty of the area and the unique experience of hearing and meeting such powerful creatures in the mountains of Colorado. One student summed up the experience quite nicely, “I have a deeper understanding of the world around me and I appreciate nature and all it has to offer.”
A special thank you to Mission: Wolf for all they do for their volunteers, students, all of us here at Cottonwood Institute, and more importantly, nature, the wolves, and the surrounding animals.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.
On Monday, June 18th, 2012, Agency Off Record, Inc. (AOR), a spunky advertising agency in Denver, CO, closed the office for the day and took off to the mountains for a 1-day survival training with the Cottonwood Institute. Leaving the 100 degree heat behind, AOR did what every responsible company should do: unplug, leave client deadlines and cell phone range behind, and head to the mountains!
Hoot, Hoot! After arriving at our stunning base camp location for the day, the AOR crew gathered up to learn more about our genius hoot system for communicating outdoors and a quick safety briefing, including how to pee and poop in the woods. A special shout out to the Admiral, the Queen and Mr. and Mrs. Peebody. Let’s just say after our bathroom talk, the word of the day was…wait for it…splatter cakes!
Smiles were exchanged for game faces as we broke AOR into two groups to compete in a series of survival challenges throughout the day. They came up with creative team names, including: Donner Party! and Stud Ranch? The losing team had to buy the first round at Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO at the end of the course, so needless to say the stakes (and bragging rights) were extremely high. Check out this video of one of their first challenges to visually represent wind:
Each team fought “to the pain” and were neck and neck all day. They participated in a survival scenario, competed in a shelter building competition, and were briefed about several fire building techniques, primitive and modern fire starting methods, and how to make their own survival kit. Without a clear winner, Donner Party! eventually emerged victorious in triple overtime when they correctly guessed the age of Ford Church, the Cottonwood Institute’s Founder and Executive Director, who was honored to instruct the course along with co-pilot Kristin Maharg.
Look out Survivor, a new highly trained group of survivalists are ready to take you on next season!
To check out our slide show to re-live the magic of the day, Click Here.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Chautauqua Park on a Saturday morning a ragtag group of outdoorsy people waited to load up the caravan of cars heading to Calwood Outdoor Education Center. Sounds like a group of students waiting to attend a summer camp, huh? Well, sort of…once again it was time for Cottonwood Institute’s annual summer instructor training weekend. With a few new faces joining the veterans, we made our way out of Boulder’s weekend traffic ending our mini road trip at Calwood’s beautiful Solitude Camp Site. With nothing but the wind in the trees to accompany us throughout the weekend, we set to work.
After a morning stretch, hike, and inspiring quote, we set up camp, created our outdoor kitchen area, learned a few things about group gear and safety, enjoyed a much needed sit spot and then hungrily dove into our lunch of tuna salad. We then worked on shelters and fire skills, participated in a medical scenario, and even witnessed a black widow capturing a bumblebee in her well-spun web. Exhausted yet content and warm under the late afternoon sun, it was time for a break where we all relaxed and got to know each other more while a pot of pizza rice simmered on the stove for dinner. A relaxing fireside chat of what if scenarios and a birthday surprise of chocolate cake for our outstanding Executive Director, Ford Church, preceded an unusually warm and windy sleepy night.
We awoke to a slight chill in the air, which a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and granola cured quite quickly and we set right into action on our service learning project where we worked hard assisting Calwood with a fire mitigation project. We talked more about risk management and dove deeper into the paperwork portion of implementing successful courses, played a few games, learned some new debriefing skills, and as time flies quickly, it was time to go. As on any great Cottonwood Institute course we participated in a reflection activity and ended the training with a sit spot to complete our evaluations.
Although the weekend was quite busy, there was time to enjoy the calm of the outdoors before we headed back to the hectic schedules of our everyday lives. As Cottonwood Institute instructors we connect our students to the outdoors and help them find their reason to care about the environment. In order to do this and do it well, we must remember to continually make that connection for ourselves. This weekend offered this much needed connection.
Here’s to the amazing group of instructors that I had the pleasure of attending Cottonwood Institute’s instructor training with. Without you, it would just be another day in the office! You rock!
Click here for a slideshow of the weekend’s adventures.
Eight months ago, Cottonwood Institute embarked on a new journey, Mini CAP, with a group of sophomores from FAST Tracks, a dropout prevention program at Lakewood High School. Mini CAP is a spin off of our core curriculum at New Vista High School in Boulder, the Community Adventure Program. We took our CAP curriculum and revamped it into a mini curriculum to include all of our core components including a student led action project and outdoor skills. By doing this we are able to connect more kids to the outdoors empowering them to discover their reason for caring about the environment. Students met twice a week during the 2011/2012 school year with a Cottonwood Institute instructor and embarked on many adventures throughout the year.
We started with a question: Can one person change the world? At the beginning of this course the majority of the students simply said no because it takes more than one person and left it at that. But at the end of the course – 7 months later – there came a deeper understanding of the same question. One student summed it up well, “I know I can change the world. But I also know I can’t do it by myself.”
This realization did not come easy. We worked through sarcastic comments, pessimistic thoughts, and even behavioral challenges getting to that point. We read stories, watched movies, hosted guests, wrote poems, played games, went on field trips, participated in team-building and nature awareness activities, learned survival skills, discussed controversial topics, wrote in journals, learned about environmental issues, and completed an action project around water conservation and pollution.
While we started with only a question, we moved rapidly into personal skills and team-building and then put these to the test on our first field trip to tromp through the snow near Conifer where we built a quinzhee snow shelter and had an epic snowball battle. Taking the outdoor skills we learned back into the classroom, we worked more on understanding environmental issues and why we should care about these issues. From there we began to formulate our own ideas and interests leading us into our action project.
After hosting guest speakers on a variety of topics from school environmental clubs to water education, we chose to focus our efforts on water conservation and pollution. This involved everything from tracking our water usage for a week, studying other countries’ usage, playing a water relay race, and creating awareness posters on conserving water, bringing us to our culminating project: working with the City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation to continue their cleanup efforts at Main Reservoir, one of 3 reservoirs for the city of Lakewood. We also toured Marston Water Treatment Plant, giving us a more complete understanding of how water is processed to ensure safe drinking water. This entire process, from education to awareness to action, provided a circle of understanding as to why conserving and caring for our water is important for the safety of not only our community, but for the world.
Some may see cleanup projects and posters as mundane work, but in the word of one student, “Yes, I can change the world. Cleaning the park as a class made the park cleaner. There might still have been some trash, but that’s one less animal that may die from [pollution].” I recently heard a story about a man throwing starfish back into the sea as they wash up on shore from the tide and another man says that there are too many starfish washing up on shore to make a difference. The first man then replies, as he tosses yet another starfish back into the sea, “Made a difference to that one.”
We fought pessimism through the entire course as many of the students see the world and themselves as being selfish. While this was difficult to work through, it was rewarding for all when we broke through this cloud and realized that we can only do what we can do and by our actions, others may follow in our steps. We talked a lot about motivation and inspiration and what makes people take action and while these students may or may not be the next movers and shakers of the world, they will move and shake you. Their words and actions are quite powerful. This is what inspires them:
“People that have nothing in life and they find a way to make it.”
“What inspires me is family, friends, and situations in general. And I want a good future. That’s inspiration!”
“My family inspires me because they are always telling me that I can do anything if set my mind to it because anything is possible.”
With inspiration and support like this, watch out world, these kids are going to create change! And with additional support from programs such as Mini CAP, devoted educators, and adult and peer mentors, the change they create will be welcomed by all. What do you think: Can one person change the world?
I will leave you with this poem from a student, and then ask yourself one more question: Is it worth it?
- I AM…a talker and keep to myself
- I WONDER…what can I do to change things in my life
- I WANT…to help
- I AM…only one person who tries to help
- I FEEL…helping people makes me feel better
- I WORRY…when my family worries
- I CRY…when my family struggles or when there is no end in sight
- I SMILE…when the people I care for smile
- I AM…optimistic
- I DREAM…of a better world for my family
- I TRY…to see the world in a different point of view
- I HOPE…that one day my family will be happy
- I AM…an outgoing person
A huge shout out to all those that made this program possible: Cottonwood Institute, Wildland Education Awareness Institute for use of its land, Shane Wright of Groundwork Denver, Cottonwood Institute’s Earth Task Force, City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation, Denver Water, Alan Polonsky of City of Denver Department of Environmental Health, and J.D. Prater of Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). A special thanks goes out to both Lakewood High School and teacher extraordinaire, Mr. Robert Giusto! You rock!
Click here for a slideshow of all the adventures we had throughout the year!
CAP students were quite busy this quarter. Before their first overnight they learned about camp setup, packing their bags, proper camp nutrition, and basic outdoor overnight essentials. Most of them already had a great deal of camping experience for high schoolers. Or so they said, as they arrived for the overnight with overstuffed backpacks – everything but the kitchen sink! And so the adventures began…
…And continued. Although it started heavily snowing, everyone was in good spirits through spreading mulch, going on a night hike, learning about fox walking, setting up a bear hang, and working as a group. Even though they were exhausted and wet, by the time CAP left their first overnight trip everyone was satisfied and excited for the next one.
The next few weeks students worked on their action project, which was all about transportation and the inefficiency of cars. When they went on field trips CAP students only rode bikes, used the bus, or other forms of alternative transportation to leave a smaller carbon footprint. They walked their walk and talked their talk.
Finally, it was time for the second overnight and more adventures with the weather. This time it was all about the rain. Needless to say their spirits were slightly dampened (pun intended!), but as soon as they set up their tents, ate lunch and built shelters, the sun decided to poke out from behind the clouds, helping to raise spirits a bit. Students played elbow tag for an entire hour. (And for those of you who have never played this game, I leave it up to you to look it up and play – well worth the time!) Feeling energized and satisfied, they headed back camp to hang out and eat dinner. The next morning was sunny and warm, and everyone was sad to leave. As CAP ‘s quarter came to an end, the only disappointment was that time had flown by so quickly, but everyone knew the experience of it all was something that would never be forgetten.
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!
Written By Juliet Luna and edited by Madeline Bachner and April Pishna.