| Vicki Whisenhunt

AXL Academy Finds Adventure in the City at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

A full day of adventure at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge was a spectacular way to launch Cottonwood Institute’s newest CAP Program, at AXL Academy in Aurora! A group of 13 middle schoolers and 3 Cottonwood instructors jumped at the opportunity to escape the daily grind at school to adventure off into an oasis of wildlife hidden within the city.

We started with a rare and eye opening tour of the National Eagle and Wildlife Property Repository. This secure warehouse houses 1.3 million wildlife items seized by law enforcement, like animal furs, ivory, etc. A hush came over the CAP students and instructors as they entered the tour room. Many of the youth stared in awe at the stuffed Polar Bear, Tiger, Giraffe, and numerous other animals and furs. As the tour began, the youth asked again and again if all of the animals in the room were “real;” the guide affirmed several times that every animal there was indeed once living. The tour guide explained the purpose of the repository, answered questions about hunting, poaching, and the cultural significance of some animal parts. As we entered the warehouse many of the youth were excited to see so many rare and foreign animal products up close and had countless questions. The youth were very engaged and interested to learn why certain animal products were considered precious or valuable.

After leaving the repository, we headed out to explore the nearby and beautiful Lake Ladora! We used a fun activity to practice our listening skills, reviewed the Leave No Trace principles, and then set off on a 1.8 mile hike around the lake’s lush and diverse ecosystem. Soon we came to a small and quiet beach on the south side of the lake. There the CAP students were excited to play in the sand, dip their feet in the cool water, and find some aquatic life (like crawfish and snails) hidden in the water. We focused on nature with a quiet sit spot and then circled around the rest of the lake, encountering caterpillars, several species of birds, some unique wetland plants, and even spotted some frogs hiding in the swampy algae as we crossed a fishing bridge.

We finished up our hike and spotted a nice shaded area with picnic tables and grubbed on a delicious and nutritious lunch, followed by a quick trash pickup competition. We then took a break from exploring to play a spirited game of football, while others started a jumping jack competition. Brianna, who was showing off her all-star arm, couldn’t stop grinning and giving high fives as she told the Cottonwood instructors that this was her first time playing football!

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife RefugeEverybody helped clean up and hopped back into the van, to set out for a trip on a scenic wildlife drive. CAP scholars were confused at first, wondering where all of the wildlife was hiding… until we encountered a large herd of Bison crossing the road right in front of us! Many CAP students had never seen a Bison before, let alone an entire herd of them just outside of their window! One boy, Damien, told his instructor “Mister, make sure you roll up your window so they can’t get in!” During the rest of the wildlife drive, we encountered mule deer, prairie dogs, more bison, and even a hawk! We then pulled into the visitor center’s amphitheater for a quick reflection activity and handout. Many of the youth, including Dario, said that they really enjoyed seeing Bison up close and were excited for our upcoming camping trip! A day at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge proved to be quite the adventure within city limits, and an excellent choice for AXL Academy’s first field day with Cottonwood Institute!

Thank you to the National Eagle and Wildlife Property Repository for the amazing tour!

See more photos from our trip here!

Written by CAP class instructor Corey Engle.


Categories: AXL Academy, CAP, Community Adventure Program, Program News

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