In early June, Cottonwood Institute led a group of students from STRIVE Preparatory Schools’ Excel campus to Mission: Wolf, a solar-powered wolf sanctuary in Westcliffe, Colorado. The group spent four days meeting wolves, playing, exploring, learning, and working hard to give back Mission: Wolf.
Situated across the valley from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and adjacent to thousands of acres of National Forest and State Trust land, Mission: Wolf provided an amazing opportunity for these Denver-based students to explore the outdoors. From quiet “sit spots,” to a challenging hike up Hodi Mountain, to building fires, to simply enjoying time with friends around camp, students discovered solace and a sense of place during their time at Mission: Wolf.
Kent, the Founder and Executive Director at Mission: Wolf, and several of the inspiring resident volunteers, taught the students about many ecological concepts, including trophic cascade. To more deeply explain the importance of having a top predator in an ecosystem, Kent challenged the students with a riddle: “How do wolves give fish cold water?”. During their four days, students began to understand how wolves are a keystone species, affecting all aspects of their ecosystem, even fish! In places such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the extirpation of wolves caused an overpopulation of elk, the elk overgrazed the willow trees near rivers, triggering the riverbanks to erode, and consequently causing murkier and warmer water for the fish. This is just one of the many examples of how a top predator can affect seemingly unrelated parts of their ecosystem.
Meeting and getting kissed by the wolves taught the students one of the most important lessons: wolves are actually friendly! Students began to rethink old stories like “Little Red Riding Hood”; let’s get to know things that we’re initially afraid of before passing judgment and assumptions. In the words of Aldo Leopold: “To look into the eyes of a wolf is to see your own soul – hope you like what you see.” Students learned how to present themselves in such a way that made the wolves feel more comfortable with so many humans in their territory. Mission: Wolf is also a horse sanctuary, giving the students the opportunity to interact with horses. Like the wolves, the horses taught the students valuable lessons in self awareness, confidence, body language, and how an individual affects others.
Mission: Wolf would not be the vibrant and successful place that it is without the dedication of its volunteers and help of visitors. To earn their wolf kisses, students completed many projects to help Mission: Wolf. Service projects included fixing fences, stacking firewood, moving dirt and mulch, maintaining trails, and feeding the wolves. With muscles and smiles growing, the students worked hard knowing that their efforts helped give the wolves better lives in the sanctuary and beyond.
Filled with wolves, horses, starry nights, games, riddles, laughter, late-night tent talk, hard work, and THREE birthdays, this is a trip to be remembered! Thank you to all that made STRIVE Excel’s visit amazing!
View and download pictures from STRIVE Preparatory Schools’ adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.