Under the warm August sun, Cottonwood Institute and City Wild partnered up for a service learning project with Growing Gardens in Boulder. We were treated to a tour of this amazing property and walked along rows of sunflowers, heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, and potatoes. In the Children’s Peace Garden, we ate grapes off the vine, investigated the pizza garden, and even tasted a variety of edible flowers. Along the way, Connor, one of the Growing Gardens staff, taught us about how potatoes grow, the special qualities of their lemon squash, and even picked us a purple bell pepper. We tapped into our prior knowledge from science class to understand how photosynthesis works to grow our food. While walking through the community gardens, we saw many different varieties of vegetables and flowers, and different ways to organize a garden on small plots of land.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to discover hands-on, the hard work that goes into organic gardening. Using hands, tools, muscles, and drive we weeded rows of sunflowers. Some of us sought shade beneath the sunflower canopy by crawling under the leaves to do more precise weeding, while others used hoes to weed larger areas. The sunflowers looked happy by the time we were finished!
During our long lunch break in the shade, we cut up and ate juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and jalapenos – all still warmed from being ripened in the sun! Yum!
Following lunch, we spent time learning more about Growing Gardens’ CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Teens participating in the summer Cultiva Youth Project are responsible for running the CSA. The CSA provides fresh, local, certified organic produce to many members for 20 weeks during the summer. We were able to pick the cherry and grape tomatoes for this weeks’ CSA. While picking the tomatoes, we learned how to tell when a tomato is ripe, and how tasty they are when pulled directly from the plant!
We had a wonderful day in the garden with City Wild and the Growing Gardens staff. We’re excited to take all of what we learned back to our everyday lives, and maybe even plant a small garden in our backyards!
Written by Katie Craig. Edited by April Pishna.
In mid July a group high school girls from Colorado Youth for a Change in Boulder (a drop-out prevention program), along with one girl who flew all the way to Colorado from the DC area just for this course, spent four days at beautiful Sunrise Ranch learning the ways of sustainable agriculture on Cottonwood Institute’s Cesar Chavez Organic Gardening Project. Upon arrival at the ranch, a smiling straw-hatted, bearded man, Patrick, greeted us eagerly and warmly, setting the tone for the entire course. We toured the property picking apricots out of the trees along the way, and learning that this has been a small farming community for decades. We ended the tour on top of a hill in a beautiful ponderosa forest above the farm, our home for the next four days.
After camp set-up and lunch, we headed back down the hill for our first session of farming. Patrick and the interns living on the farm taught us all about harvesting garlic, cucumbers, and broccoli. Harvesting cucumbers was a highlight as we all got to munch on them while working. To wrap up our afternoon of farming, Patrick thanked us for coming to the farm. One of our students returned that thanks by stating, “You inspire me to garden and thanks for getting us out!”
On the second day we started the day off with a peaceful sit-spot. Many of us looked down into the valley over the farm, with the red cliff bands glowing in the morning light and the songs of meadowlarks accompanying the view. We spent the entire day on the farm, weeding the corn and beans and harvesting four huge buckets of basil. In the afternoon Patrick sat with us under the apple tree while we picked the basil leaves from the stems. As we worked, he taught us about permaculture and even played some banjo for us. After dinner we sat on Moonrise Rock and had an engaging discussion about Cesar Chavez, food, and the agriculture industry. We watched lightning in distant thunderstorms as the light faded and the stars came out.
Wednesday morning started at 6am as we woke up to the yips and howls of coyotes in the valley. Half of us went down to the fields to help move the sprinkler pipes. Working together we lifted the pipes, helping the farmers move the sprinklers in half the time it would normally take. We rewarded ourselves with a frolic through the sprinklers to cool down and ended the morning with a meditation circle, where we learned a Navajo song about beauty and sang and danced in the dewy field. We spent the remainder of the day re-making Shelly Mo, a giant Mother Earth turtle pizza oven that had been washed away in the rain. Everyone got down and dirty mixing together the clay, water and manure mixture to make up her shell. We got the afternoon off at the pool, and after relaxing for a while we went back to the farm to make pizzas in our finished oven. The interns helped us harvest onions, basil, beets, zucchini, kale, and garlic to put on our very own pizzas! We even got to have pesto sauce made from all the basil we picked the day before.
We had an amazing evening hanging out with the interns making delicious food. By the time we had to head back up, we were all full of pizza, a familial love and a real sense of the community around farming. Once again we sat on Moonrise Rock, this time with a fit of giggles, giddy from the evening of fun. Once we calmed down we had a touching thank you circle to wrap up our last night on the farm.
On our final day we finished weeding and planted flowers, leaving behind a blossoming memory for the interns and Patrick. We held a roses, thorns, and buds circle followed by many goodbye hugs from our new friends on the farm. Patrick and the interns taught us so much about sustainable agriculture, love for one another and our planet, and how we can all make a difference for the environment with our decisions around food. One student stated that her time on the farm “opened my eyes to the issues of modern agriculture and what individuals can do to make a positive impact for sustainability.”
Many thanks to Sunrise Ranch for giving us an opportunity to learn in such a beautiful place and to Patrick for giving us his expansive knowledge on farming!
Click here for pictures of the adventures!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, Cottonwood Institute has been partnering with Casa de la Esperanza, a Boulder County housing community in Longmont. We have gone on day hikes, hosted movie nights, and worked on action projects. And finally, on the weekend of July 21st, we embarked on the best adventure ever – CAMPING! The forest of Calwood Outdoor Education Center echoed with the laughter of seven boys and four girls. This group of 9-14 year olds was accompanied by a team of four enthusiastic Cottonwood Institute instructors, three supportive parents and one awesome chaperone for two days of adventure and fun in the mountains above Boulder. This was the first time many of these students have ever been camping, so they were eager to learn about camping and setting up their tents. What began as a competition to see who could get their tent set up first, ultimately ended in teamwork as parents, instructors and kids all worked together to set up the tents.
After successfully setting up base camp we hiked down to a lake and had some great stone-tossing competitions. We explored around the shoreline and found caddisfly larvae crawling around, and then found hatched caddisflies landing on us! As we strolled along the shore we munched on wild mint and learned about the plants around the pond. After frolicking across the meadows of Calwood, we found a perfect place to play a game of camouflage, which quickly became everybody’s favorite activity of the weekend.
On our hike back to camp shrieks from a couple of the girls alerted us to snake sightings. We all gathered around to watch the little garter snakes slither through the tall grass. The games and activities continued well past dinner and into the evening. We played wildfire tag and talked about the impacts of fire in Colorado. Many of the kids were disappointed that we couldn’t have a campfire until the instructors whipped out no-fire-smores, glow sticks, and LED lights for a pretend fire. When our bellies were full of graham crackers with frosting and chocolate, we embarked on a night hike, where the initial fear of the dark was replaced by awe at the starry mountain sky. Not to be outdone by the darkness and yawns, we made time for a few rounds of the always exciting blind drumstalk activity, and finally exhausted, we collapsed into our tents for a restful evening under the stars.
Sunday morning dawned bright and early as the smiling Casa kids surrounded our tents, eager for breakfast and more adventures. Once we were full of oatmeal, we got our blood pumping by playing a game of Alaskan Baseball with Fred the Chicken toy, then headed over to our service project – fire mitigation. Everyone did a fantastic job hauling wood from the slash piles up the hill to the road. We were rewarded with watermelon and an energizing game of camouflage. Reflection time and a treasure circle helped bring our weekend to a close, but only because it was Sunday. If it was up to the kids we would still be there.
Thanks to The Brett Family Foundation, The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, our donors, supporters, Cottonwood Institute instructors and staff, and the Casa de la Esperanza community for providing the students with this opportunity to enjoy and connect to the beauty of the outdoors!
Click here to check out a slideshow of the adventure.
Click here for Casa de la Esperanza’s report on the adventures. We are all in agreement – Can’t wait for next year!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
This has certainly been one of Colorado’s hottest summers, but that did not deter the Buckley Airforce Base Youth Group from going out to the woods for a weekend of adventure and learning with the Cottonwood Institute. On June 23rd they departed to the Colorado Lions Camp and Conference Center outside of Woodland Park near Colorado Springs to brave the heat and wander the woods.
After setting up camp, the group dove quickly into learning about fire skills and shelter building. Fire became a big topic on this course, as the kids witnessed the beginning of the Waldo Canyon Wildfire. They watched the column of smoke grow and billow, coming face to face with the knowledge that fire can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. Knowing their location was safe from the fire, the students were eager to learn more about nature and survival.
The afternoon brought on a two hour exploration starting in the ponderosa pine forest and winding down into a ravine to a boggy, willow-filled environment. This became the highlight of the course. The students found some intriguing bones and spent a good deal of time asking questions and speculating as to what had happened, what animal they were looking at, what gender it was, why it died, etc. Nature awareness was also brought into play as the group observed and identified the different plants in the changing environment.
To wind down the weekend’s events, each group member shared a story, leading into unique and interesting conversations, including a discussion on what it means to connect to nature. Although the course was short, the adventures, lessons, and friendships built will last forever. What more can you ask for?
We are very thankful to all of the donors and supporters who made this course possible for these military youth, especially the Markham Vineyard’s Mark of Distinction Program, which helped fund this project. But don’t take our word for it, check out this short thank you video from our students:
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
The long lazy days of summer has just begun, but a group of 12 West Denver Prep Lake Campus students decided to give up a few of these lazy days for an adventure at Mission:Wolf (MW) this past June. MW is located near the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountain range just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado. It is a wolf sanctuary housing up to 40 wolves at one time, relying on staff, volunteers, and groups to help maintain the property, feed the wolves, and of course, give them special attention.
After packing up all the gear and food, we piled into the van, and with snacks and cold beverages at hand for our 4 hour drive, we were off. It only took about 2 hours to hear the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” but thanks to the tunes, the giggles, and the wonders of air-conditioning, we made it up the steep hill and into MW, bright blue sky, blazing sun, and all.
We were all excited to meet the wolves, but there was even more excitement to help feed them when we started hearing whispers that we were going to help butcher a cow that had recently died. (Local ranchers donate their deceased horses and cows to help the costly expense of feeding the wolves.) This excitement held strong the entire 4 days we were there, even while setting up tents, basecamp, and creating our outdoor kitchen. These kids were far from done for the day, so we set out on a short hike to Carcass Canyon to explore the variety of bones leftover from the many wolf feedings, played a game of camo in the waning daylight, and then hiked back to base camp for some good old fashioned hot dogs. Still not worn out, with the stars lighting our way, we headed out into the night for another hike, where we became familiar with our surroundings by using nature awareness skills and night senses.
Morning came a bit too early for all of us, but the howls of the wolves were our alarm clock and after a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausages, it was time to hike up the hill where we helped feed the wolves and setup the groundwork for a new horse fence. After lunch we managed to motivate this young group of city slickers into creating some amazing debris shelters and even had them participating in and understanding the importance of a sit-spot. One student even went so far as to say, ‘That was the most relaxing thing ever.” Never doubt the importance of a sit spot. But our day was far from over. The kids heard the rumors that the cow was about to be butchered, and we spent the next two hours being both thrilled and disgusted watching this intricate, bloody, yet necessary task. This was both the highlight and lowlight (the smell was awful) of the trip for most of the kids. Although it is quite rough to watch, it is an amazing opportunity to experience first hand the full cycle of life and food and while the kids may not fully comprehend that yet, they will never forget it.
Our last full day was spent helping out around MW, feeding the wolves, playing games, making journals, reading stories, and more importantly, finally meeting the wolves. While wolf kisses were limited, smiles were not. No matter how hot it is or how tired you may be, it is always an uplifting experience to walk into the wolf enclosures, sit down, and be face to face with an actual wolf. We ended our final day with another night hike longer than the first and with a great deal more excitement. While it is uplifting to meet a wolf, it is even more uplifting hanging out with 12 year olds who do not camp and who turn down the outdoors to watch tv or play video games on a regular basis, but will go excitedly on a night hike without flashlights; laughing, singing, hot chocolate-filled city kids having the time of their life in the middle of no where, having only stars and their voices guiding the way. Amazing!
Due to the heat of the day, late nights, and kids who are not used to the outdoors, motivation was lacking at times. But once these kids tried something new, many were genuinely interested and when given a chance and encouragement, they worked hard and listened attentively. But wait, we had one last hurrah on the drive out of MW. “Look! Way off in the distance! Is it a dog, is it a fox? No, It’s a BEAR!” Lessons learned from this trip: put yourself in the right place at the right time and always try something new!
As always a great big thanks to Mission:Wolf for hosting us and giving the kids rides up that long, steep hill. They loved it!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!
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.
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!
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