Everyone was packed and ready for a wet and rainy weekend of camping when thirteen 7th and 8th graders departed The Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) in Stapleton on a grey Saturday morning. While many expectations were filled and exceeded, the rain held off to deliver a sunny weekend with lots of learning, laughing and fun outdoors with Cottonwood Institute.
The bus caravan from Denver wound through the scenic mountain roads of Four Mile Canyon to take the long way to the campsite in order for the group to witness some of the still glaring remnants of the recent fire and flood in the canyon. Having recently studied forest fire ecology and mitigation in school, the students were curious and full of questions and information as they gazed out on the burnt valley near Gold Hill. The connections between fire and flood became clear and questions were answered with first-hand knowledge at the road-side burn site.
Arriving at Cheley Outpost, after a scenic Peak-to-Peak drive, the students were excited to backpack the 1/4 mile in to the campsite. For the many who had never camped before, the challenge of setting up tents turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. Once set up and ready for the night, the students got the chance to spread out across the rocky hillside and babbling brook that ran through the campsite to find a spot to sit alone. This sit-spot afforded the opportunity to really take in and experience the landscape, brimming with life, that is so easy to miss while caught up in the social world. The students got so much out of their sit-spots, that they were eager for several more before the weekend was through. After that grounding time in nature, they got the chance to create their own “forests” using a flat board with holes in it and matchsticks for trees. The group loved experiencing, viscerally, how slope, density, and wind effect the spread of forest fire as they lit their matchstick forests and watched them go up in flames. With plenty of light left, they worked together to help build burn piles of dead wood to contribute to fire mitigation at the site that was so kind to host them. After a long day of learning and work, the students still jumped at the opportunity to help make dinner. While some did that, the others practiced the art of making fire by friction, and when that failed, finally made a campfire using the “one match” method. The evening was relaxing with s’mores in the firelight and joyous conversation.
After waking up to sunshine and birdsong by the babbling brook, the students got ready for a three-mile hike to a scenic overlook. On the way, they learned the skill of fox walking; treading so silently as to walk undetected. The trail was flooded out in places, but passable, and the group was rewarded with a stunning view of the snow-capped Mount Meeker and Longs Peak from a rocky outcropping. After soaking it in over a sit spot, they got to play the all-time favorite game, Camouflage! This is a version of hide and seek that uses the skills of fox walking and sensory awareness. Finally, the group circled up to share their highlights from the trip and lessons learned. Many had learned more about fire mitigation and how to be comfortable camping. One student even shared the he, “…learned that it’s okay to get your shoes dirty, and everything else dirty, and still be comfortable and have fun.” This got everyone laughing! All-in-all the sunny weekend turned out to be a valuable learning experience, complete with some good service and lots of spontaneous fun!
Written by Sandy Chervenak, CI Instructor
For more on matchstick forest fires, check out this video!