The Telluride Valley Floor’s colony of Gunnison’s Prairie dogs may very well have added another word to their local dialect in recent years. Perhaps the barks and yips heard during the Telluride Intermediate School’s seventh grade field trip to the Valley Floor earlier this week could be translated into “large group of adolescent humans,” since the spectacle has become a common occurrence on the Valley Floor lately, thanks to the Telluride Institute’s Watershed Education Program.
WEP is a free resource for local schools and teachers located in the San Miguel River Watershed. WEP provides full-day and overnight programs directly related to their classroom curriculum and tied to the Colorado State Standards, explains Telluride Institute’s Watershed Education Program Director Laura Kudo.
“The San Miguel River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado, and boasts riparian ecosystems that are home to flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world,” Kudo says, describing the WEP experience as one that simply cannot be replicated indoors. “This gets students into the real-life classroom… providing unique hands-on learning opportunities.”
On Monday, all 60 of Telluride’s seventh graders explored their eye-popping, real-life classroom, listening to the barks of resident prairie dogs, seeing the handiwork of dam-building beavers and getting a quick history lesson about the Valley Floor and the San Miguel River from Telluride Open Space Commission and Town Councilmembers Bob Saunders and David Oyster.
“We’re witnessing the return of these prairie dogs’ natural predators,” Saunders told the group, as they stood watching the critters peek up out of their dens and scurry to new holes, referring to the recent emergence of badgers on the Valley Floor, and the raptors drawn to its recently erected Raptor Poles.
“We actually saw a badger catch a prairie dog, when we were out here a few weeks ago with another class,” Kudo said, “so keep a lookout!”
Through the WEP program, every school in the San Miguel Watershed has been introduced to this unique high-altitude ecosystem in the fledgling 2011-2012 school year. The Watershed Tour begins near the headwaters of the San Miguel River, and over two days it follows the 75-mile course to the confluence with the Little Dolores River, with frequent stops at local landmarks including the Rimrock Museum in Naturita, a hike through the Keystone Gorge. It has been turned into an overnight program, complete with a camping stop along the river at Caddis Flats Campground, in Norwood Canyon.
The tour features local speakers and experts like State of Colorado Department of Natural Resource’s Camille Price and Idarado Mining Co.’s Joe Smart, Town of Telluride’s Program Manager Lance McDonald and San Miguel County Parks Supervisor Rich Hamilton, as well as the Telluride Institute’s Kudo. The speakers share their knowledge about the area’s natural, cultural, and human history, watershed geography, regional geology, and river ecology, Kudo says, the purpose of which is “to inform the students that live in our Watershed how people and places interact with and shape one another, and why this interdependence is important and relevant to them.”
As students stood overlooking a beaver-created wetland on Telluride’s Valley Floor on Monday, Kudo asked them to harken back to the “Wetlands Metaphor Game” they played earlier in the program. She asked them how a wetland is like a coffee filter (“Because it filters the water!”); how it acts as an antacid (“Because it balances the pH!”); and how the bottom of a wetland is like a sponge (“Because it soaks things up!”)
Telluride Intermediate School teacher Jenni Ward explained that the WEP field trip and related lessons, like Kudo’s Wetlands Metaphor Game, all relate to the students’ fall curriculum – from social studies to history to science – as part of the school’s Project-based Learning program.
“Students take away knowledge of riparian ecosystems, life zones, wildlife, and human communities,” Kudo explains.
To learn more about the Watershed Education Program, or to support this program that is offered free to all local schools, contact Kudo by emailing email@example.com