Urban high school students get a taste of life on the Carpenter Ranch
Steamboat Springs — A hard-working crew of high school students from Fern Creek High School, in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Denver School of Science and Technology agreed July 14 that sitting around a campfire at The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden this month as coyotes howled in the vicinity will leave a lasting impression.
For Derrick Mason, of Louisville, the invitation to take part in the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future, or LEAF, program. sponsored by Lowe’s and TNC, was a rare chance to travel and experience new landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains.
“My whole family doesn’t travel, so I don’t get to see a lot of stuff,” Mason said. “I’ve never seen a snow-topped mountain before. That was a first (coming over Loveland Pass on the way to Steamboat). I wanted to experiment and go someplace I’ve never been before.”
Mason wasn’t even protesting the fact that, upon arrival here, all the students surrendered their smartphones to help them make the shift to the natural world.
The LEAF program represents a sustained effort by the Nature Conservancy through 22 years to reach out to students at environmentally themed high schools in urban areas to immerse them in field work in order to instill a passion for the work in them. While working this week to remove an unwanted bridge from a slough on the Yampa River at the Carpenter Ranch, they were being paid $9.35 per hour — the minimum wage in Colorado.
The financial support of Lowe’s — which covers airfares for the students and even the grocery budget (teams of students take turns shopping for $30 worth of groceries that have to feed eight hungry people) — has enabled the LEAF program.
“Providing students with the opportunity to engage in actual conservation projects in areas such as the Carpenter Ranch and the Yampa River Preserve is a great complement to their classroom learning and gives them hands-on experience they may not otherwise get during the school year,” TNC director of youth engagement programs Brigitte Griswold said in a news release.
Griswold would have been pleased by the reaction of Mason’s friend, Terrance Johnson, who said he had been struck by the open spaces of West Routt County, where, he said, it’s easier to breathe than at home in Louisville.
“Since I’ve been here,” Johnson said, “it’s really changed my life plan. I want to pursue this. I’m trying to figure out what I have to do to stay in touch with The Nature Conservancy and, possibly, get a job in the future.”
Carpenter Ranch outreach and facilities manager Betsy Blakeslee reassured Johnson, “The opportunities will be there for you.”
TNC reports many former LEAF students have gone on to jobs as national park rangers, environmental engineers and science teachers.
Alex Millan, who moved to Denver with his family from the Mexican state of Jalisco four-and-a-half years ago, was impressed by the working agriculture taking place on the Carpenter Ranch.
“It’s an amazing experience to see many types of rivers and to see cows and horses living on a ranch,” he said.
Blakeslee said that, while removing the bridge and learning about noxious weeds at the Carpenter Ranch, the students also gained an understanding about how beavers take advantage of the calm water in the sloughs along the river and, ultimately, create wetlands that supports waterfowl and plants evolved to exploit that niche.
Earlier this week, the LEAF students visited Elkstone Farms in Strawberry Park, where they learned about alternative methods of small-scale agriculture. Next, they’ll move on to monitoring populations of boreal toads on Lynx Pass and later, test their teamwork building trail on Hahn’s Peak.
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