Since 2010, Cottonwood Institute has been collaborating with the military community along the Colorado Front Range to offer our Military Kids Project. We are honored to make this program possible for active military families and their children to thank them for their incredible service and sacrifice they make for our country.
With a small but mighty group of Air National Guard kids and family members, initial introductions didn’t take long. We could feel the nervousness ease as we learned each other’s names, listened to each other’s previous camping experiences, chatted about the environment, and shared our biggest anticipations for the weekend as we drove to White Ranch Park. We piled out of the car, packed our backpacks, and walked over to a beautiful outlook feeling like a unit. As we picked our initial picture spot, we all smiled into the camera knowing that we were in for a fun time.
The real teamwork began when we needed to carry a cooler full of food and three jugs full of water. The kids ran off into the woods to find a stick strong enough to carry the water, yet thin enough to fit snugly into their hands and through the handle of the water jugs. During our rest breaks we started telling riddles to tease our minds, as well as hugging and smelling the sweet aroma of ponderosa pine trees. It seemed like 5 miles, though our camp site was a 1 mile hike away; we felt victorious and scurried to set up our new tent homes for the evening.
Hungry, yet anxious to explore, we had lunch in our cozy new kitchen and set off to see the nature around us. We found huge rocks, beautiful trees, shiny mica and silly squirrels that looked like bunnies. After exhausting ourselves, we found a place of comfort and stared into the woods using our senses as we sat in our sit spots. We noticed that the flora from our hike into camp looked different than flora in our sit spot. We talked about why those differences might be: precipitation, mountain blockages, cardinal directions, and fauna habitats, among others.
This set us on the path to search for the yucca plant. We were determined to make bracelets and natural survival rope. We found sharp rocks and begin pulling away the soft tissues of the yucca. I don’t think any of us really knew how much patience it would take – as well as attention to detail – in order to make the survival rope and bracelets. We talked about how grateful we were for the easy access we have in today’s day and age to so many useful tools and technology.
We worked as a team again to make the best burritos that ever existed in the woods. With a fire ban in effect we didn’t make a large campfire, but we did learn a lot about fire. We tried out bow drills, flint and steel, and more advanced technology (cotton balls and petroleum). After successful attempts and a delicious dessert, we gazed at the night stars that were shining ever so brightly and listened to a bedtime story about protecting nature and listening to our inner desire to be outside and enjoy the wilderness.
As we ate breakfast together we knew we had bonded and were all sad to leave. We packed up camp and headed out to do our service work together. The ranger asked us to help move some chopped wood that had been stored in the back of the shed for four years. In the time the ranger allotted us to move half of the old wood out of the shed and onto a trailer, we exceeded his expectations and began to move new wood into the space that we had already cleared. We were cheering each other on and felt very proud of our hard work as a team. The ranger was very grateful and rewarded us by driving our packs to the van. He educated us on his job responsibilities as a ranger and even let us use the loud speaker on his truck.
We wanted to do one more sit spot before we left and one final picture of all of us at the end of this delightful trip. We drove off sharing more riddles and enjoying each others company.
A big thanks goes out to Enterprise Holdings Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, and our generous donors who support this project.
Written by: CI Instructor, Shantee Scheel
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