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
The trip was planned and facilitated by students and ETF mentors with borrowed gear and organizational help from The Cottonwood Institute to help them pursue their goal of rekindling their passions for environmental sustainability while also reconnecting with peers outside of school. The ETF knows that time in the wild is an important part of staying grounded while working on the tough issues that environmental sustainability can pose.
The group enjoyed hiking, climbing, and exploring in the breathtaking landscape of the Colorado Rockies. They also partook in cooking adventures, playing in the woods, and singing around the fire. While many stayed in cabins, a few of the braver students slept in tents. In the morning, they awoke to snow on the ground with delicate flakes still falling. The superheroes spent time talking about what inspired them to make change in the community and about their plans and ideas for the coming year.
One member said, “You can hear the most depressing stories, but when I see a group taking action to make change, no matter how small, I am never depressed.” The retreat achieved the goals to reconnect and plan for the coming year. The time away reminded students and mentors of the precious land they are working to protect.
Click here to read more about what motivates these amazing teens!
Article written by Earth Task Force member, Raina Galbiati, and edited by Paige Doughty.