ELK Explores Colorado State Forest State Park

Not many youth today can claim they caught countless trout, taught a fishing clinic, climbed a mountain, worked tediously as a State Park volunteer, and shared the outdoors within arms reach of a baby moose all in the same weekend.  Once again ELK youth experienced more over a long weekend than many  city children experience in a life time. 

On Thursday July 8th, ELK loaded up the vans, hooked up the trailer, and headed North towards the Poudre Canyon and on towards Colorado State Forest State Park.  We arrived in the State Park to discover a lake, littered with the dimpled rings of rising trout, the magnificence of the Medicine Bow Mountains looming in the distance, and our cabins that would be home for the next 4 days.  Immediately our kids began working hard to unload the trailer, gather firewood and organize the campsite, in hopes of fishing the evening rise – believe us when we tell you that these kids absolutely love to fish!

Later that evening, while gathered round a crackling fire fueled by split logs of fallen lodgepole pine, ELK youth and staff each took turns welcoming new youth to the family – for several kids this was not only their first ELK event, it was their very first camping trip as well.  ELK’s uncanny ability to engage youth in the outdoors is exceptional, and in the firelight the joy in the faces of the kids added to the illuminations of the fire. 

ELK staff tied their first fishing knots of the day, at 5:15 Friday morning for a restless group of youth – so excited to fish that they barely slept.  The cries of, “fish on, fish on!” echoed across the misty lake, and though tired and anticipating the first cup of coffee for the day, one couldn’t help but to feel rejuvenated amongst all the youthful excitement. 

ELK Youth Jose Gonzales setting the hook under the watchful eye of ELK's Education Director Matt Crouse

Not long after the sun evaporated the morning mist from the lake, we all enjoyed a hot breakfast of pancakes and sausage – fuel for the upcoming learning  project.  Around 9:00 a.m.  Park Ranger Jacob Dewhirst pulled into camp and spoke with ELK about the Mountain Pine Beetle and the negative effects it has had on Colorado State Forest State Park.  ELK youth listened eagerly in observance of the dead lodgepole pines that tainted the mountainsides with rusty colors. The State Park has found many creative ways to benefit from the pine beetles destruction and have generated tons of mulch as a result of the beetle killed trees.  ELK’s project for the day was to improve a new backcountry campsite – that had recently been clear-cut to avoid injury from deadfall from pines, made brittle by mountain pine beetles – by spreading mulch that would designate one site from another. 

ELK Youth Leader Trudy Vo working Hard

The mulch piles were no match for our ELK youth!

 ELK youth worked tirelessly and without complaint as they shoveled yards of mulch, wheeled it into the designated sites, and spread it evenly across the barren grounds.  The suns heat was relentless at around 9,000 feet without the shade of the trees, but the kids worked the day away regardless.  A few of our youth admiringly worked harder than they ever had before.  Why do we call these projects service learning projects?  ELK is not only about science and outdoor education, it is about life education as well.  Later that evening, sitting by the fire and looking at the stars, Dante, a 13 year old youth participating in his very first ELK event, said: “Hard work pays off in the end.  I took advantage of my dads hard work.  Now I appreciate him.”

ELK work crew with State Park Ranger Jacob Dewhirst finishing up the day's work.

With afternoon storm clouds rumbling towards the worksite over the ridge lines, ELK wrapped up the days work and accepted a great deal of thanks from the Head Park Ranger.  We will remain tremendously proud of how hard each of the youth worked! The kids were tired, so was the staff, but not to tired to go looking for moose on Long Draw Road.  Armed with spotting scopes, cameras and binoculars, we creped down the road in our vans, scanning the marshy meadows and tree lines for moose. 

ELK Youth Abraham Giles scanning the fields for Moose

It wasn’t long before we encountered a cow and her calf grazing along the stream banks, with a bull feeding on willows in the foreground.  Amid the hums of mosquitoes, ELK quietly exited the vans for a better view of the animals.

ELK Youth Jose Gonzales observing moose from a close, but safe, distance.

 Later, after a few more sightings while driving along the road the cow and her calf appeared at road side and went about their business nearly within arms reach of the ELK vans. 

It was amazing to see this calf so close to our vans!

 Once again, a once in a lifetime experience for our ELK youth!  The laughter around the fire was short lived that night, and the kids were voluntarily in bed early to prepare for tomorrows fishing clinic and hike. 

Early Saturday morning the cries of, “Fish on!” broke the silence of the predawn as breakfast was being prepared and a morning fire was being built to help cut the chilled morning air. 

ELK Youth were up early each day, ready to fish before a hot breakfast.

After breakfast and some camp chores, ELK dawned their golden shirts and headed for Ranger Lake to represent the Colorado Division of Wildlife as volunteers by teaching a clinic for the kids staying in the campground.    We had a great turnout for the event, and the ELK youth leaders did a fantastic job, as always, educating 40 future anglers of the world. 

Our Youth Leaders educating the future anglers of the world

Kent Minor, Park Manager, with a smiling and successful youth angler.

The clinic ended with smiles and thanks, and after a grilled lunch of hotdogs and hamburgers we loaded back into the vans and departed for the trail head of Lake Agnes.  The wind whistled through the trees, and the trail appeared steep, as we geared up for the .8 mile hike towards the lake.  After a tough hike the kids were quickly ready to try their luck fishing at roughly 10,500ft.

"The Director's Catch" Stacie Gilmore, ELK's Executive Director, landed this beautiful cutthroat with the help of Dante Gold, ELK youth

Several cutthroats were caught before the rumblings of thunder forced us back down the trail towards the safety of lower elevations, and finally back to the cabins for the evening.  Spaghetti and meatballs helped us unwind from the day, and after dinner the local Colorado Division of Wildlife Officers stopped by for a bite to eat, and to meet the kids. 

District Wildlife Manager Josh Dilley and Wildlife Technician Zach Sanders talking with ELK around a warm camp fire

Around the warmth of the campfire, the kids asked insightful questions, and told jokes, to the officers/biologists and the laughter continued well into the evening.  Finally, the excitement of the long weekend caught up to our youth, and shortly after the officers left, one after another, the kids headed for their bunks – exhausted from, yet again, accomplishing  more in a few summer days than, sadly, many inner city students will in a lifetime.  Sunday marked our last day in Colorado State Forest State Park and after grilling some fresh trout over an open fire for breakfast, we loaded up the trailer, drove through the beautiful Poudre Canyon and arrived back in Denver later that afternoon.  Next month we will be camping in Rocky Mountain National Park! 

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