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Youth learn and play at Sweitzer Lake State Park

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Photo by Sarah Marshall Two Hotchkiss High School students try their hand at archery.
Photo by Reaha Goyetche The wind couldn’t keep these students off the water.
Photo by Sarah Marshall The confident smile of a young woman who can build a fire from flint.

On April 21, 45 Youth Outdoor Network students celebrated Earth Day and the end of a successful first year at Sweitzer Lake State Park.

Students from the five participating high schools -- Paonia, Delta, Olathe, Cedaredge, and Hotchkiss high schools -- learned survival skills from Anita Evans, director of the Nature Connection. Armed with flint and cottonballs and faced with a ceaseless wind, students raced to build a fire the fastest. Ingenuity paid off and those students who incorporated found objects -- namely dried horse poop -- were the first to get their fires burning.

Rotating through stations, students constructed and painted bat boxes, learned to make "seed bombs" and collected trash to clean up the park. Intrepid students braved the wind and ventured out onto Sweitzer Lake atop stand-up paddleboards and canoes. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife boat accompanied students onto the lake, and pulled out a few students after the wind got the best of them.

Teressa Chambers, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteer, taught students how to safely shoot a bow and arrow. The archery competition got fierce, and several students shot bulls-eyes after Teressa's expert tutelage.

The whole day was agreed to be a bulls-eye by the students, who are excited for the upcoming year of the Youth Outdoor Network.

The Youth Outdoor Network is a collaboration between the Western Slope Conservation Center, The Nature Connection, and the U.S. Forest Service that seeks to create outdoor recreation activities and pathways to natural resource careers for local youth. Through field trips, service learning, and guest speakers from government agencies, local non-profits, and outdoor outfitters, students explore outdoor careers and learn how they can start building skills today.

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Sweitzer Lake State Park, Youth
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