Denver teenagers swap technology for environmental education |

Denver teenagers swap technology for environmental education

Denver School of Science and Technology students Richard Dominique and John Olaka use GPS technology to map invasive weeds Friday at the Carpenter Ranch near Hayden. Dominique and Olaka are two of six student-interns in Routt County experiencing hands-on environmental education, many for the first time in their lives.
Ben Ingersoll

— For two weeks, six Denver teenagers are trading in their cellphones, iPods and downtown homes for work boots, research books and trails.

It’s a paid internship program that for nearly half a decade has been sending city students to rural Routt County through The Nature Conservancy, a 14-day study that opens students’ eyes to hands-on environmental research, things they never have seen before.

The six high school students hail from the Denver School of Science and Technology. With the guidance of a pair of team leaders, as well as college students serving their own internships in the county, the students are diving into such things as trail maintenance, fence building and repair, insects and animal research and invasive weed mapping across four stops.

“It’s a life-skills experience almost as much as it is to expose them to careers in the environmental field,” said team leader Zachary Hoppenstedt, of Washington, D.C. “It encourages the next generation of environmental leaders, especially in the fields of science and technology.”

Some of the students never have left the comfort of their inner-city homes, fellow team leader Victor Kasper said. But through the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program, the six students are breaking out and picking up instruments that were foreign to them just a few weeks ago.

The Nature Conservancy is sponsoring 144 students nationwide this year, spanning 27 states. This year marks the fourth year students have ventured and studied in Routt County, and it’s the third straight time the students have been from Denver. The inaugural year, students came all the way from New York City.

The interns began work Tuesday, building drainages and clearing debris along Moto Trail in the Pike National Forest in North Routt County. They also conducted frog surveys in the area, discovering a rare breed of boreal toad along the way.

The following day, the six students and two mentors met at the Carpenter Ranch outside Hayden for a three-day study on the ranch’s sprawling land.

The main focus of the Carpenter Ranch stay involved identifying invasive weeds that would need eventual removal. Using iPads — one of the few items of technology they can get their hands on for the two-week span — the interns conducted GPS weed mapping, singling out Canada thistle, mullein, toadflax and houndstongue, marking their growth using the iPad application “Collect.”

With the weeds mapped, professionals can come onto the ranch and spray for the invasive species, making it a much more expedited process, Carpenter Ranch intern and University of Redlands student Anyssa Haberkorn said.

Also on site is a lysimeter, a state-of-the-art data collector that directly uploads information regarding evapotransportation and weather patterns to Colorado State University researchers. Information from the lysimeter helps environmentalists better understand soil and water patterns, specifically the minimum amount of water that can be used for maximum growth benefits.

“You definitely get to see a lot more here than in the city,” Denver student Richard Dominique said.

Dominique and his classmates will spend Tuesday and Wednesday at Mad Creek, where they will continue their range work, building fences and clearing rangeland along the popular recreational area.

Their internships will round out July 28 and 29 along the Yampa River in Steamboat, as they learn more about fence removal and building.

“This is just preparing them to be successful at work, home and in their communities with an environmental focus,” Hoppenstedt said.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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