Neither snow, nor rain, nor wind, nor freezing temperatures kept North Fork area fourth-grade students from enjoying Friday's annual field trip to Lost Lake Campground.
"It's a good age to teach preparedness," said Dana Niksch, Program Support Specialist with the Paonia Ranger District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests while standing under a canopy watching kids and adults dash through the falling snow from learning station to learning station. "That's the year and age to teach responsibility."
This is the second annual field trip to Lost Lake in celebration of Sept. 24 as National Public Lands Day (NPLD). An event of the National Environmental Education Foundation, NPLD falls annually on a Saturday late in September and was created to promote recreation, volunteerism and conservation of America's public lands.
With more than 200,000 participating volunteers, NPLD is also considered the largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands and was created to encourage the use of public lands for education, recreation and health.
The trip is also held in conjunction with the National Park Foundation's Every Kid in a Park initiative. The initiative was established by President Obama in 2015 to encourage use of public lands. The National Parks Service, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and other departments, provides every fourth grade student in the nation an "Every Kid in a Park" pass, good for one full year of admission to all public lands for them and their families. Kids also receive one free Christmas tree, said Niksch.
Despite heavy rains and harsh winds, the roughly 25 volunteers signed up for the trip arrived at the Paonia Ranger District office with a positive attitude and ready for any kind of weather, said Niksch. "To care about school and care about kids enough to come out in this weather" says a lot about the quality of volunteers.
Representatives of The Nature Connection, the Western Slope Conservation Center and other local organizations were also out in force, teaching students about stewardship, volunteerism and "Leave No Trace" principles.
This is the second year the U.S. Forest Service Paonia Ranger District celebrated NPLD with a field trip to Lost Lake Campground, located in the Gunnison National Forest at an elevation of 9,623 feet. Despite the winter-like weather, teachers and kids reported having a good time, said event coordinator Paul Kimpling with the Paonia Ranger District. The heavy morning snowfall resulted in modification of some of the activities to keep kids moving. At the nature poems station it was tough to write in the snow and stay warm, so the group started a fire and incorporated the experience of sitting around a fire into their poetry writing.
Kids also learned about the basic equipment used by foresters, orienteering with map and compass, and how to use a clinometer, an instrument used for measuring the angle and elevation of slopes. They built bluebird houses, and tried their hand at some of the basic tools used in back-country work.
They also met a pack mule and pack horse used to haul tools, gear and supplies into the backcountry by veteran Wilderness Ranger and Forest Service packer, Barrett Funka.
"It's a great way for kids to get exposed to nature and the elements," said Kimling, even if it's snowing.