New best friends were made and hiking trails were made usable once more after eleven girls from the Colorado Youth for Change (CYC) program went to Cal-Wood for two nights. In early June, Cottonwood Institute partnered with CYC, which works to help at-risk youth to stay in high school until they can graduate. They brought the girls, along with three CYC counselors, up to Cal-Wood, a well-known outdoor education center near Jamestown, CO. The September 2013 floods damaged 60% of the trails at Cal-Wood. Now that the roads into Cal-Wood are again passable, Cal-Wood is working hard to restore trails so that they can continue bringing Front Range students to their 200-acre outdoor classroom. CYC was one of the first groups to work with Cottonwood Institute and Cal-Wood in flood recover efforts. The students from CYC embarked on the trip cheerfully, but also a bit apprehensively as the group came from two different high schools in Boulder Valley: Boulder High School and Centaurus High School. To add to the nervousness, most of the girls had never camped before.
With such a new domain, the first day was spent simply hiking to camp, setting it up, and getting to know everyone in the group. Whatever reservations the girls had about girls from another school melted away quickly as they engaged in silly games and learned all that they had in common. The group greatly enjoyed “sit spots”, a cornerstone Cottonwood Institute activity where students get to have some silent, solo time in the vast beauty of nature. Later in the afternoon, the group started working on fire building techniques so they would have a flaming fire and hot coals on which to roast marshmallows for s’mores! The girls separated into smaller groups and competed for who could make the most successful fire with one match. They learned a lot about the principles of fire-making that night, and the whole group got to spend the night enjoying the fruits of that labor. That night, the whole group engaged in a story-telling game called “Werewolf”, which kept everyone in stitches and sent the girls to bed feeling warm and connected.
The next day, the students set to work, alongside Americorps volunteers, helping to clear and repair hiking trails that had been damaged by the flood. The girls worked incredibly well together, coming up with ideas together and helping each other out. It was really amazing what they accomplished on short day! Not only that, but they had a blast playing in the cool creek in the afternoon heat. That night, they went on a short hike to where they could take a sit spot and watch the stunning sunset over the snow-capped peaks. Back at camp that evening, the group started their campfire using flint and steel strikers. Instructors also taught the students how to safely whittle and carve spoons out of wood. Another round of Werewolf before bed strengthened the friendship that had been growing, and the girls stayed up giggling in their tents well after the fire had been put out.
The next morning, the girls packed up camp quickly, leaving time to help Cal-Wood haul some logs to the roadside where they could be picked up more easily. Those logs would get sold as firewood, and 100% of the proceeds would go towards helping more kids come to Cal-Wood for an outdoor education experience. Afterwards, the students rewarded themselves with a group yoga session and one last sit spot. When reflecting on the experience, most of the girls talked about the power of helping others, the value of rebuilding their community after the flood, and how they had made new friends even though they were skeptical at first. As they walked back to the van to drive home, they all linked arms and formed a synchronized skipping line, cementing the unity they had worked so effortlessly to create for the last three days. What a successful trip!
Thank you to Colorado Youth for a Change, Cal-Wood, and Cottonwood Institute for their support in this amazing experience for CYC students! View and download pictures from CYC’s adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.
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Written by Sandy Chervenak, Cottonwood Institute Instructor
Edited by Katie Craig