TELLURIDE - The marmots have hibernated beneath a layer of snow, while the boughs of the Englemann spruce are weighed down by the same white blanket. Columbine seed heads rest quietly until next spring. A mere six months ago, these same species were enduring the heat of the summer, as a group of eight high school students from Telluride and Norwood observed them on their scientific explorations in Bridal Veil Basin and on the Telluride Valley Floor.
The young naturalists spent their summer under the tutelage of Program Director Alessandra Jacobson and Co-director Ramona Gaylord, and a host of visiting experts including dendrochronologist Dr. Peter Brown and fisheries biologist Dr. Matthew Dare. The students were able to dip kick-nets into Bridal Veil Creek, gleaning aquatic invertebrates for identification. They cored coniferous trees and carefully examined the story told by the rings. They learned taxonomic identification of flowers, trees, birds and mammals. They also touched on the basics of soil ecology, mycology and orienteering. It was a true living classroom, where students touch, feel, smell, and listen while utilizing scientific instruments to create a plot or measure the slope of a hill.
The experience was made possible through the support of the Telluride Institute and the inspiration of Jacobson, who has directed BVLC for a decade. She works as the primary mentor, keeping the students on task, providing detailed directions on how to write a research paper, providing a substantial and interesting curriculum through her network of biologists and offering students her own scientific knowledge. This year, Jacobson was assisted by Gaylord, the Telluride biologist, naturalist and educator who facilitated field sessions on the Telluride Valley Floor and expanded BVLC topics to include Valley Floor birding, ecology and mammalogy, with specific emphasis on the Gunnison prairie dog colonies and their ecological significance.
After the long hours hiking and studying throughout the summer, the students were expected to select a topic of their choice on which they would collect data and then compose a scientific research paper. They spent the autumn composing their papers and meeting with Jacobson and Gaylord. Their work included entering data into tables and graphs, interpreting trends, and drawing conclusions based on previous scientific research as well as trying to formulate their own ideas about the data they collected. They were also required to present their research, much as a PhD candidate must do when delivering his or her thesis. Sarah Fulton examined marmot behavior. Mikaela Balkind presented data on evergreen trees, precipitation and growth rings. Mckenna Brumley researched common mushrooms in relation to various forest types. Research conducted by Lizzy Vickers, Brooke Skelton, and Erin Kean, under the guidance of Ramona Gaylord, explored aspects of prairie dog biology and interactions with plants and humans. Sierra Merrick researched aspen stand regeneration rates and Briana Santa Ana explored the affects of magnesium chloride on soil and plants. All of the studies were done in the San Miguel watershed, which helped connect students and their community with the natural world in this region.
Upon culmination of this intense scientific course, the hard working young biologists will be awarded three college credits through Colorado Mesa University and one high school credit. The program’s mission is to instill an interest in the natural world which will inspire the students’ future careers and create a lifelong appreciation for the earth.
Telluride Institute provides the support needed to run this free-of-charge program through the generosity of its grantors and private donors.
BVLC students will offer details about their summer research at Honga's Lotus Petal on Monday, Dec. 9. A reception with appetizers takes place at 6 p.m., followed by the students’ presentations at 6:30 p.m.