When their parents dropped them off in the parking lot early on this dreary and cold Saturday morning, most of our STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside Middle School CAP students looked like or readily admitted that they would rather be sleeping. After a quick banana-and-granola bar breakfast and a notable short 20-minute drive to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, it didn’t take long before they saw their first wild bison of the day. Not long after, they were watching black-footed ferrets eat baby mice and pondering what it means that 90% of a black-footed ferret’s diet comes from just one other species – prairie dogs – and everyone was wide awake! They asked many questions of our US Fish & Wildlife Service host, Gaby. The young ladies were especially intrigued to hear about how she had come to have a career working with the natural world. Many nodded when asked if they were interested in careers in the environment.
As we explored the preserve along trails around its lakes, they explored and got curious about the different tracks, scat, flowers, seed pods, leaves, sounds and sights around them. They discovered spider nests, got really quiet when spotting or hoping to spot wildlife, peered all about with binoculars. Picking and dissecting a seed pod was an exciting lesson in biology and Leave No Trace principles – we saw that all of those beautiful seeds in our hands wouldn’t get distributed by the wind now that we had picked the pod. In that moment and many others, I felt incredibly lucky to witness true awe on every one of their faces at some point throughout the day.
One student remarked at how relaxed she felt from this day out in nature. Here are other quotes from students about the day:
“The highlight of the trip was how we got to learn about the history of the arsenal, and the ferret. And how they lived. We studied different parts of the arsenal. And yes I would want to again because it was good bonding time, and I would want to go again.” – Aly Nevarez
“The trip to the Arsenal was so fun. Some highlights[: I was] able to see some deers and bison. Also I got to see some ferrets. I liked walking around the lake it was interesting looking at all different things that are in nature. I would go again because I want to be and feel natural.” – Elisabeth Hernandez-Caballero
As we drove around the wildlife viewing area we saw the near-full mating-season racks of male mule deer and most of the bison herd, re-introduced to the refuge in 2007. Binoculars were passed around and frequent requests to stop for a little longer, and “I didn’t get to see them yets bubbled up. Soon we took the short ride back to STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside, families, and urban life. Of course we had never been that far away – the periodic roar of airplanes taking off nearby had been a reminder. It was a day of exploration and awe, and the most awesome part was how close it was to home.
Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge for their partnership, and to Gaby from the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the presentation!
See more photos from our trip here!
Written By Instructor Julie Hayes.