Wilderness management, a term famed for its oxymoronic nature, is a constant conversation within Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the most controversial examples of human intervention into the wild landscape and ecological processes within the Park is the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan. A comprehensive study, representing the work of countless departments, stakeholder interactions and assessments and research money, the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan works to control the overabundant elk population within the Park and provide opportunities for habitat regeneration and riparian improvement, especially for species such as the beaver, aspen and willow. One of the most visible, and unpopular, pieces of the plan is the implementation of elk exclosures, large fenced in areas which exclude elk from certain grazing areas, giving opportunity to many other species who desperately need the regeneration of their habitats and growing areas to remain within the Park.
Rocky describes the plan as “[relying] on a variety of conservation tools including temporary fencing, vegetation restoration, redistribution and culling. The park may use additional management tools in the future using adaptive management principles.”
The plan, though arrived at through careful mediation with local groups, visitors and other important stakeholders, is nevertheless controversial to many park-goers, and is under constant need for interpretation. As part of seasonal staff training for the department of interpretation and education, this week I went out in the field to actually see one of these exclosures firsthand and process what this plan meant for the Park with my coworkers.
The results, even after only a few years since its implementation in 2014, are striking. Even at a distance the disparity between areas on either side of the exclosures is obvious, with lush, tall and thick vegetation within the exclosures and sparser, shorter growth to the exterior. Water tables within the exclosures have risen significantly, allowing the dry, flatter meadows created by home-steading within the Park for the last century to return to the marshy, wet and lush riparian lands they once were. Even as the results are tangible, and Park employee consensus is that it is wholly beneficial to the ecological integrity of the Park, it is still fraught with controversy.
What is the role of human intervention in wilderness management? Have we created a cycle of human intervention that we can never reverse? What truly constitutes wilderness? How mindful must we be of the urban-wild interface when we as a Park imagine solutions to our most pressing problems?
The fences will likely remain for the next ten years, to the dismay of many visitors, but how long will we see the mark of human impact in a Park that is 95% designated wilderness area?
It was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver today! The Get Outdoors Colorado event was a success. I was able to connect with many people focused on accomplishing similar goals, to diversify audiences in outdoor settings. Meeting the Urban Rangers of Denver was definitely a highlight. For those who don’t know, the Urban Ranger program is a partnership between the National Park Service, Environmental Learning for Kids and Denver Parks and Rec. Urban Rangers are high school and college students that teach environmental education programs to underserved youth in the greater Denver area. Seeing these incredibly young folks working hard to complete their mission is inspiring!
On the way back home from Denver, my supervisor and I decided to take the scenic route. From Morrison, we took CO-67 S to Woodland Park. Although most of the drive had a speed limit of 30 mph, it was worth it. Views of the South Platte River off CO-67 are incredibly serene.
Back at the ranch, progress on the Geo/Paleo Camp is rolling along. My brown bag presentation on Friday was lengthy but productive. One of the most significant changes we are making to the schedule is to have the camp run from Tuesday to Saturday, as opposed to the traditional Monday through Friday format. The reason for this is we believe it is incredibly important to provide parents with the opportunity of attending the last day of camp. Not only would the parents be present at the graduation ceremony, but they would also be exposed to the mission of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the National Park Service. Most of us can agree that parents serve as the role models for our youth. Therefore, if we can instill a sense of stewardship in our youth’s parents, they will, in return, pass it on to their children.
“From climate change to civil rights, the job of the National Park Service is to stand behind and represent our nation’s most challenging stories.”
On the first day of what will be two weeks of seasonal staff training, one of my supervisors stood at the front of the thirty members of the Division of Interpretation and Education for the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park and said these words. I was struck and excited, reminded of exactly why (and how) I am excited by the Park Service and my role here as the Science Education Intern.
This last week has been a whirlwind of long days, note taking and research, as the entire department convenes for seasonal training and explore our relationships with one another, the Park, our jobs and roles. I’ve really valued this first week, with opportunities ranging from beginning to research our own programs to develop, to traveling through the tundra, to engaging with our counterparts on the Western side of the Park, because of the emphasis every single one of our supervisors has placed on value, originality and depth. It is incredible to be part of a team that strives not only to represent the Park to its visitors and use the natural beauty and significance of Rocky to unlock an appreciation for natural spaces and environmental protection, but also properly arming and empowering its staff.
Each supervisor, with precise training, workshops, resources and sessions has asked each of us on the staff to be reflective in regard to how we see ourselves and others and think critically about our mission and task. Even as I am daunted by the prospect of having just one more week of training before I have to give my very first public programs, I feel relaxed knowing I have been entrusted with a plethora of techniques, skills and trainings to help me feel comfortable — with myself, the resources, the park and leading programming. The level of care and warmth I feel from this team is a big shift coming from New York, but a welcomed one. I was happy for the short break of this weekend and the opportunity to explore some more of Rocky by myself, but I am delighted by the prospect of next week’s training.
In last week’s post, I briefly introduced what I will be working on at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument this summer. After meeting with my supervisors earlier this week, my project task has now been solidified. I will be creating a Geology/Paleontology summer camp for students (Grades 4th-6th) from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This camp would be implemented in the summer of 2018. However, this summer will see the testing of many of the planned activities for the camp, both on and offsite. My first task was to create an outline of the activities and daily themes the camp will have. After an hour-long discussion with my supervisors on Friday afternoon, we decided it would be a good idea for me to host a brown bag meeting next Friday where I will present my summer camp outline to the entire (or most) staff for extra feedback and suggestions.
A big component of my project requires me to do community outreach. I stressed to my supervisors that although the main focus of this camp is to get students excited about geology and paleontology, we must also focus on getting the community and parents involved in the camp. Just as the famous African proverb states “It takes a village to raise a child”, it also takes an entire community to raise a scientist. This coming week I will be meeting with an elementary teacher from Colorado Springs who participated in the National Park Service’s Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program for ideas on how to engage students in science. Then on Saturday, I will head into Denver for the Get Outdoors Colorado event where I plan to meet with other outdoor educators and build a strong network and support system.
Quick sneak peak into the camp: On one of the camp days, students will go down to the local Florissant Fossil Quarry to sift through sheets and sheets of paper shale in search of fossils. I can attest to the excitement and addiction this activity brings, as all of us interns at Florissant Fossil Beds lost track of time while digging for fossils at the quarry. The best part about the quarry, you get to keep your findings!
It’s hard to believe that my first week at Rocky Mountain is already over. I’ve only been here for 5 days and somehow it feels like I’ve been here forever. While seasonal staff training begins officially on Monday, I was really privileged to go out into the park twice with both the park photographer and one of the more established rangers and become acquainted to the park and some of its most compelling ecological features. While we drove, hiked and spoke with dozens of volunteers, rangers and support staff, I was able to speak with them directly and specifically about how to cultivate a personal relationship with such a beautiful place that I can translate into creating successful and impactful interpretive programs this summer. What is interpretation? What does my role really mean?
In Interpreting Our Heritage, Freeman Tilden writes, “The visitor’s chief interest is in whatever touches his personality, his experiences, and his ideals. The adult visitor who happens to be the auditor or reader of interpretation has no general awe of the interpreter…He does not so much wish to be talked at as to be talked with.”
I’ve been reading Tilden as I try to sort out what my role means for me; for the visitors I’ll be interacting with; for the Park Service. How do I engage with visitors in a way that animates the natural history of the park? Its social history and implications? How do I make the Calypso orchid not merely a small purple speck on the trail but bring it alive in its context? How do you properly blend the intellectual and emotional to really impact a visitor?
I’m asking lots of questions, but as one of the rangers told me yesterday, this is the time for questions. I am excited for training to begin next week and begin to put some meat on the bones of my relationship to this park. This weekend I plan to keep hiking and running; soaking in as much of the personal and emotional as I can.
Here are some of my favorite photos that capture some of the best moments of this week:
On another note, elk are everywhere and I intend to close every blog post with them. They’re majestic and quirky (which must be why I am so enamored with them), but if you ever intend to visit Rocky, you should start by accepting just how commonplace they are… these tri-tone landscape fixtures with the capacity to define the landscape of an entire park.
Hey everyone! My name is Sofia Petros-Gouin and I am a rising junior at Columbia University, majoring in American Studies and Sustainable Development with a special concentration in Education. I will be interning at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado where I am excited to work as the science education intern. A New Yorker for much of my life, this will be my first time in Colorado!
Much of my academic research focuses on the environmental and social history of energy infrastructure and development in the United States and the rise of the conservation movement and environmental justice. I am also deeply interested in the viability of non-traditional and experimental education models. Through much of my work, I’m seeking to ask how can we educate others, especially young people, about the outdoors, environmental justice and work towards de-privileging and protecting natural space? I have worked extensively in outdoor education initiatives and on environmental justice campaigns in New York and I am excited to bring this energy and desire to learn to my time at Rocky Mountain!
This summer I’m excited to learn about career opportunities and realities within the Park Service, to gain the necessary skills to develop, implement and lead original public and interpretive programs, to expose myself to guiding and wilderness education strategies that can be applied across a variety of age groups and to establish connections in the regional network and local environmental/conservation organizing.
I’m excited to start this journey and call such a beautiful place my home for the summer! I’m one of the first of the seasonal staff on site, so I’m excited to get to meet everyone at the end of this week and begin staff training soon!
Attached are photos of me arriving at the airport and a gorgeous view of the park I get to see from the local grocery store.
Hi everyone, my name is Ricardo Escobar-Burciaga. I made the move from Los Angeles, CA to Florissant, CO last weekend. To give you an idea of the drastic difference in lifestyle I will be adopting this summer, I moved from a city of more than 4 million people to a town of less than 120 people. The most difficult adjustment is going from checking email/social media accounts hourly in the city to having to drive more than 5 miles away to get decent signal and wifi. Although the remoteness and size of the area is quite a change, my heart has always been in the mountains, so I feel I am adapting quite well.
I could start off by describing my first week at the monument. However, I would like to focus instead on the experience I had during my move to Florissant, CO. Driving across the Colorado Plateau never ceases to amaze me! The sights, the sounds and the friendliness of the people is just incredible! I want to emphasize the fact that we are never in control of the events that take place in our lives. However, how we choose to invite the unexpected is completely up to us. Last Friday evening, on the way to Denver, my friend and I were snowed in Vail, CO (right in the heart of the Rockies) and I-70 was closed. We were supposed to get into Denver that evening to check into our hotel and my friend was to catch her flight the following morning. As you can imagine, I was panicking and concerned with where we would be spending the evening and how long I-70 would be closed for. With help from Susan of EFTA, however, we managed to book a hotel in Vail and made the most of the situation. In the end, we met some very friendly people there, we embraced the beauty the Rockies had to offer and my friend arrived to the airport on time. John Denver was absolutely correct; the purple mountains truly are majestic! And I mean that in all aspects! We made the most out of an unexpected situation!
For a brief insight into what I will be doing this summer; I will be working as an Education Specialist at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It is one of the richest fossils sites in the world, with over 1500 species of insect fossils! My project will involve developing curriculum geared toward marginalized communities in the greater Colorado Springs area. There will be some component of outreach as well. I am incredibly excited to get started on my project as I am a strong advocate for promoting and increasing diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I am also looking forward to working with an amazing set of individuals that I had the honor of meeting this past week. Stay tuned for more on the Florissant Fossil Beds next week!