The Western Slope Conservation Center held its fifth annual Conservation Days at the Paonia River Park last Thursday and Friday, and by all accounts, it was the best of the bunch.
"It started out as this really small event with just a couple of classes," Julia Bowman, Paonia River Park coordinator for the WCC, said. "Now over the next two days we'll have just about every fourth grader in Delta County come to the Paonia River Park to learn about their environment."
Busloads of school children wandered the park on a picture-perfect day last Thursday, taking in all of the work stations and fun learning experiences that teach environmental awareness.
Students learned about solar ovens and generated electricity at the Solar Energy International work station. Or they took in the model that demonstrated how water moves through sand and can be saved.
Maybe they wanted to learn how West Elk Mountain Rescue uses pulleys and ropes to lift people off mountaintops. Maybe they just wanted to be kids and play with bugs in the mud by the river.
They could do all of that and so much more in the outdoor extravaganza. Students rotated through a diverse array of 11 work stations that provided a broad introduction to the world around them.
"I think what's really rewarding is you get all the kids coming through," Paonia Mayor Neil Schwieterman said. He has volunteered at all five Conservation Days. "It's a really great project, a great way to keep the kids engaged in the outdoors and keep them learning about the environment. And it's a fun day, that's what's important."
The WCC puts the event on for the school kids with the help and support from multiple sources.
"We provide this event at no cost to all schools, all parents and all students," Bowman said. "The point is to share information about the environment and teach students how to live well within it."
Generous support from The Kampe Foundation, the Cocker Kids Foundation, the National Environmental Education Foundation, Alpine Bank, DMEA, Double J Disposal and Hungry Lion Garden Supply enables the WCC to provide the event at no cost to students.
Work stations were taught by volunteers from the Blue Sage, the Division of Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the Delta Conservation District, the WCC and SEI.
With so many moving parts and so many students and volunteers, one might think the scene was chaotic. Not this time.
"In terms of how it's running, this is the smoothest year I've seen," Schwieterman said. "It takes some years to practice as you grow and I think that's culminating this year."