During the month of July, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy hosted a group of eight high school students from Colorado Front Range communities to work, explore, and live in Rocky Mountain National Park. For two weeks, these students lived in tents in the Moraine Park campground and completed a variety of work-service projects to support the National Park and surrounding Forest Service Wilderness areas. In between these work projects, we explored the mountains, meadows and forests of the park, laughed, sang and ate smores around the campfire, and learned valuable lessons about leadership and working as a team.
On our first day of the program, the students arrived at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy – Field Institute and participated in a variety of orientation and ice-breaker activities. After getting to know each other, we headed to Moraine Park campground to set up our temporary home for the next two weeks. After discussing our schedule for the rest of the program, everyone was excited to get to work and explore the Park! For our first two days of service projects, we worked alongside the resources management team in the park, spending a day constructing raised beds in the nursery and another day removing invasive species of Musk Thistle and HoundsTongue in Horseshoe Park.
Alongside these undesirable invasive species, we also saw plenty of native flowers including Paintbrush and Mariposa Lily.
After a couple days of work in the park, our group had a day off to visit Grand Lake and the West side of the park. We loaded up the vans early in the morning and drove over the iconic Trail Ridge Road. Along the drive, we stopped at the Forest Canyon lookout and saw plenty of marmots and elk moving about in the alpine tundra. Our next stop along the drive was at the Alpine Visitor Center, which is the highest altitude visitor center in any National Park! Here, our group explored the educational exhibits, learning about the unique plants, animals, and ecosystem of the high alpine. The rest of our day was spent in Grand Lake, hanging out by the lake, going for chilly swims, and eating plenty of ice cream.
After a much needed day of rest, we spent our next two days working alongside the Forest Service, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, and community volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy on a trail construction project in the Brainard Lakes area. Over these two days, we completed roughly 250 feet of new trail construction to reroute around an unsustainable section of old trail. During this work project, the students learned new skills like using basic trail tools, theory behind trail construction, and how to tackle complex problems as a team.
Our final week of work was spent on the Cub Lake Trail in RMNP, just a short walk from our campground. Over the course of this week, we “brushed” the trail (cutting limbs of trees and brushes that extended into the trail corridor), rehabilitated sections of braided social trail, and assisted the park trail crew in building rock steps and repairing a damaged culvert. This was exciting and engaging work, the students got to learn new skills such as using a “grip-hoist” to move rocks that weighed over 200 pounds, how to build stone structures in a wilderness setting, and principles of trail restoration. It was extremely rewarding to spend a whole week of work invested on one trail, and to see the tangible impact we had on improving it at the end of the week. Another highlight of the week was seeing a moose on our daily hike to the project site!
Overall, the July session of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy High School Leadership Corps was filled with hard work, new experiences, laughter, and time spent exploring and conserving public lands. These two weeks exposed students to the world of conservation work, and gave them hands on opportunities to take part in caring for wild and natural places. We at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy appreciate all of the support from the National Park Service, the Forest Service, our community supporters, and especially the hard work and enthusiasm of these eight students that made this special experience possible!
-Gus and Mary, Field Coordinators/HSLC Staff Leaders