Early in November, Longmont youth from Casa de la Esperanza enjoyed a balmy autumn day in the foothills as part of Cottonwood Institute’s Mini CAP. The Mini CAP is a six session environmental service-learning program that encourages students to get engaged with local environmental issues on a personal and community level. As part of the program, students develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills while simultaneously expanding their awareness of the natural world and their relationship to it.
Upon arriving at Heil Ranch, Students were greeted by sneaky wild turkeys and an outspoken Steller’s Jay skirting the parking area. When everyone was acquainted with each other, the students learned how to use their “owl eyes” (wide-angle vision), their “deer ears”, and how to walk softly, like a fox. When everyone was feeling at home and awake in their natural surroundings, the crew made their way up the Lichen Loop Trail, learning about local flora and fauna on the way. When the charred aftermath of a recent burn came into view, the students were quick to take notice. Standing high on the hillside, they let loose an inspired string of inquiry about the ecology of forest fires and fire’s relationship with current residential developments, and gained some new perspective.
Sitting around the lunch-table rock, the Mini CAP participants posed questions and explored their relationship to the local ecosystems. Water-use, mining operations, forest fires, the use of pesticides on crops and Colony Collapse Disorder were all issues that students were concerned with.
After the heady lunch-time conversation was wrapped up, the group headed down the hill to hop in the van and return to Longmont- but not before a game of Camo! Students learned to camouflage themselves with debris and test the sharpness of their senses by hiding amid the rocks, trees and grass of Heil Ranch. A spotter closed their eyes and counted to 15 while the hiders found their spots, the only rule being that those hiding must always be able to see the spotter. When the 15 seconds were up, the the spotter made their best attempt at pointing everybody out. It’s harder than it sounds, and it was a hit!
We look forward to more warm days in the spring, when Casa’s Mini CAP participants will design a project to address a local environmental issue they are concerned about.
A special thanks goes out to our funders for this project, including: the Brett Family Foundation and The North Face Explore Fund.
Written By: Kyle Brennis, Cottonwood Institute Instructor