Rock Bottom Ranch program teaches kids about farming and the environment |

Rock Bottom Ranch program teaches kids about farming and the environment

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kara K. Pearson Post Independent

EL JEBEL – Wildlife tracks each tell a different story.Likewise, hundreds of little bootprints, left by 12 first- through fifth-graders in the snow Friday afternoon at Rock Bottom Ranch in El Jebel, told stories about the three-day Winter Ranchers program.Kids built a snow community, complete with snowmen and snow women, and even a 3-foot-tall penguin on skis.

That’s right, a penguin on skis.”It came out better than I thought,” said 7-year-old Ruby Marker, the artist behind the penguin.”Yeah, you did a good job,” replied Allison Holmes, Marker’s helper and the Rock Bottom Ranch coordinator and environmental educator.

Marker and the other kids partook in the Winter Ranchers program during their winter break from school and classes. The 113-acre ranch is part of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and has been educating children in the valley on the importance of caring for the environment for years. But this is only the second year for the Winter Ranchers program.”We had a lot of success last year with the program, so much that we had a waiting list for this year’s program,” Holmes said.The Winter Ranchers program allows kids to learn about life on a ranch and about the environment by enjoying the outdoors. It also educates them on other aspects of the importance of wildlife and its habitats. And parents like it because their children are still learning during Christmas break.”There are a lot of theories that children don’t get enough time in the outdoors learning about the environment,” Holmes said. “This program gives the kids the opportunity to be outside and play and be kids, but it educates them on the environment also.”The program was Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first day the kids learned about farm life. They churned butter, fed and played with farm animals, including goats and chickens, and even made candles from beeswax. The second day was winter naturalist day, when the kids built a snow fort called a “quinzy,” and learned to identify wildlife tracks in the snow and to tell what happened by reading the tracks.

“All tracks are stories. We can tell what happened by the signs that we see,” Holmes said. “It’s easier in the winter, too, with the snow, because you can really see what has happened.”

Skiing penguin tracks aren’t commonly seen in the Roaring Fork Valley, but a bunch of other wildlife tracks are imprinted in the snow.Wildlife tracks that each tell a different story.Marker spoke of how she saw where an owl had dived from the sky down to the ground and captured a field mouse earlier in the day. They could tell by where the tracks of the field mouse stopped and the impressions of the owl’s wings were left in the snow.”We saw lots of deer and elk tracks,” Marker said as she fashioned her penguin’s skis in the snow.The day ended with Holmes and another environmental educator, Melissa Dickey, gathering the kids on a little island retreat in a field that is part of the ranch. They played tag and a game similar to hide and seek. It was called camouflage and it involved terms such as predator and prey.

The games and other activities left the snow imprinted with hundreds of little boot tracks, each of them telling a different story of the week. Some told stories of feeding chickens and goats, others told of building snowmen and a snow fort, while still others spoke of playing tag and camouflage with their friends.Each track tells a different story.Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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