Colorado Youth for Change and Cottonwood Institute teamed up to create an impactful experience for ten very lucky high school students from Prairie View and Brighton high schools this summer. We loaded up the vans and were off on an adventure to Mission: Wolf! Students didn’t really know what they had signed up for, although they were hopeful they would get to meet some wolves. They left with lots of excitement, anxious about the unknown experiences to come…turned out there were A LOT of new experiences to come! How many “firsts” can you count on this trip?
Upon arrival at our campsite, students picked a cozy spot they could call home for the next couple nights and set up a tent. For many of them this was their first experience camping and the idea of sleeping in the outdoors for two nights was definitely exciting and scary all at the same time. Soon it was time to head up to Mission: Wolf to get an introduction to the sanctuary. Students enjoyed learning that wolves and dogs share 99% of the same DNA and they are almost impossible to tell apart genetically. Wow! Also, they were blown away by the intelligence of a wolf. When a mother has pups, she teaches them at an early age to avoid the kicks of their prey (elk and deer) when hunting by using an antler or stick to poke pups. The pups quickly learn this is a game but more importantly, it is practice for hunting their prey and staying alive! Wolves in the wild often have broken ribs from being kicked by elk and deer, these mothers are prepping their cubs well.
As the tour continued, students got to see some of the wolves in their enclosures; learning many of the wolves here have traumatic pasts where they were neglected or abused because their owners didn’t understand their “wild” nature and the vast differences from owning a domesticated dog. The students were great at listening and absorbing as much information as they could remember. Later, students cooked a yummy dinner and some experienced s’mores for the first time around the campfire! Many fell asleep under a truly starry sky for the first time in their lives…this was indeed a trip of firsts.
Waking up to the beautiful sunrise, students were excited to meet the wolves up close and personal! We completed a service project weeding the barriers around enclosures to remove invasive species. The Mission: Wolf staff explained these invasives are not only a nuisance, they out-compete other native species and some of them make the wolves sick if eaten. The students worked hard removing the prickly thistles and wooly mullein. They also learned wooly mullein makes for an excellent toilet paper when in a pinch because of its velvety soft leaves.
After a few hours of solid work, students had the opportunity to meet the wolves. They were especially excited to meet the two new wolf puppies who are just getting used to being at the sanctuary and meeting new visitors. Students described the experience as a once in a lifetime event and loved being in the presence of such beautiful creatures. Later, brave students had a chance to pluck feathers from dead chickens and feed them to the wolves whole, no chopping necessary! Talk about another round of first-time experiences for those who could muster the courage. Commenting, “This is what the chickens look like when they die? I’m not eating chicken for awhile!” We patiently waited out a storm before heading back to camp and played some fun games of 21 questions and sang old circle clapping songs from our childhoods like “The Bullfrog Song”.
Before we knew it it was time to pack up and leave. The group came excited and anxious and went home fulfilled, more educated, inspired, and yes, exhausted. The trip had ALOT of firsts and the students left with many new memories, friends, and experiences to share for a lifetime. Here’s a short clip about a few of the participants experiences:
Big shout out to Mission:Wolf for continuing to provide quality experiences to our groups!
See more photos from the trip here!
Written by CI Program Manager and Instructor, Taryn Longberry