The Rockiest Week

This past week has been rocky because I’ve gotten to spend all week up at Rocky Mountain National Park! It was not rocky as in a horrible time, but rocky as in the majestic Rocky Mountains!

My trip first started out with the organization Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) and their Urban Rangers! Throughout the summer, the ELK program hosts three trips that they take families and their kids on. For this trip we took families and their kids to Rocky Mountain National Park to go camping, completely cost free! Not only that, but all the equipment was provided for them also free of cost! Being able to have this equipment to use for free is amazingly helpful. Outdoor equipment can be pricey and that is one of the major factors why Latinos are not able to do all these incredible outdoor activities, so a huge shout-out to ELK for being able to provide that for others.

As we drove up the mountains, dark clouds approached us. Worry filled all the staff’s eyes. Were we going to be able to set up camp? How bad is the storm? How long will it take for the storm to pass? Before even coming up the staff had checked the weather forecast and knew that thunderstorms were to be expected for this weekend trip. but none of us thought that this is how the trip would start.  Luckily the storm had mostly passed by the time we had gotten to our camp site, so we only had to wait in our cars for a few minutes before being able to start setting up camp. For many on this trip it was their first time going camping, ever, which for me was a great experience to be a part of. I got to help people set up their tents, blow up their sleeping pads, and get settled in to camp. I can remember the first time I had gone camping and how special of a time that was, so being able to be part of these kids’ first time camping is something I’ll hold as special in my heart. For the most part this first day was all about relaxing at the campsite. It was too late in the afternoon to go do anything exciting in the park, but also too early to head to bed. We all just played games outside near the campfire for what felt like all night long. We did skits near the fire and told stories, just like on any classic camping trip.

For the second day we went to Sprague Lake to do a fishing clinic with everyone. At these fishing clinics the Urban Rangers teach the kids about fish anatomy, ecosystems and the basics of how to go fishing! Back in June, when I attended the Urban Ranger training, some of these Urban Rangers were just learning how to teach the kids this summer about all the ecosystems, fish anatomy and fishing basics. I was impressed by how they taught the kids this time around! They knew exactly what they were talking about and had tons of experience teaching kids this whole summer. As soon as the Urban Rangers did their lessons we spread out around the lake and went fishing! Since I don’t have my fishing license I wasn’t able to fish with the kids, but I was able to supervise them to make sure they weren’t getting hooked on their own fishing poles or hooking bystanders with the fishing poles. After the kids got the hang of it, we just sat back and watched them enjoy their time at the lake. Fishing takes lots of patience, which it seemed liked these kids knew, but it still would be cool to be able to catch a fish that day. Once again here came the afternoon rain on our parade. There was a decent storm headed our way that we could see off in the distance of the lake. It was a good thing that by the time it started to sprinkle some rain we were already packing up everything to head back to the camp site for lunch.

On the last day of our trip, we volunteered with the Trail Crew of Rocky Mountain National Park and assisted in clearing hiking trails. We focused on one trail specifically, which was the Bierstadt Lake Trail. We spent about four hours working on clearing this trail of possible hazards and minimizing forming social trails.  At first I was nervous to see little kids with a bunch of saws and sharp shears, but they killed it that day! Everyone, parents and kids, were following precautions and working hard to clear this trail! Some of the kids were sad that we had to chop whole trees or some branches off because they thought we were killing the tree, but the rangers put that to rest by assuring them that if we chop one tree to save millions then a good deed is done. These rangers were really good at what they do! During one of our snack and water breaks, each ranger was asked to speak about their journey of how they got to where they are now. All these rangers had vastly different backgrounds on how they got their position or even their start with the National Park Service. Some did internships, some took the opportunity on a whim, and some were only volunteering until they fell in love with Rocky. Hearing their backgrounds and what got them to where they are now you can tell how much trail they walk and clear in order for people to have a safe path to hike on. Many of those on the ELK trip didn’t even know that parks have a crew that takes care of trails and paths. Not only is there a crew for that, but in many ways they still also need volunteers help! While the 25+ of us were there for four hours helping out, we only were able to get about two miles of the trail done. Imagine only having the five on the crew in charge of clearing all the 355 miles of trails in the park?! That would take forever! And that was when it became clear to all those in ELK that the park could not function without its volunteers.

After volunteering and helping out the trail crew, everyone went back to the campsites to pack up and get ready to leave and go back down the mountain to Denver. As soon as were were done breaking things down and had things ready to pack back in the trailer, I got to do a quick lesson on the National Park Service (NPS)!  I basically talked about the NPS emblem and how it represented what we do and what we protect as an agency.  I later gave them maps that showed them where national parks, national recreation areas, national monuments, and national historical and natural landmarks are located. Giving them these maps allows them to have awareness of all the public lands that they are able to explore in their backyards. Also, since about 95% of the people who came on the trip identified themselves as Latino, I got to speak heavily about how important it is to make the NPS more diverse. Telling people about my internship program and what that means for NPS was something that I wanted to stress to people. While being in the park this weekend, many of the kids noticed that we were the only group that was of people of color. So I used that as an example, to let them know that we need to pave the way for other minorities and to increase the diversity of park visitors and employees. This starts with all of us, as parks are for all and they need to know that!

Most importantly, before everyone left we huddled into a circle for some closing remarks. Everyone was able to share one thing that they enjoyed doing while on this trip. Things people said included that they were grateful for making new friends on this trip, grateful for being so welcomed in to the ELK family, for getting to camp for the first time, or something simple such as being able to see the amazing stars so clearly at night. All the things that they mentioned I agreed with; this trip couldn’t have gone any smoother! The kids and families all had a great time, and even though it rained for a good chunk of the trip the rain never stopped the fun!

As everyone packed their things and left, I actually wasn’t going down the mountain with them; I was staying there in the park. For the remainder of the week I would be staying up at Rocky Mountain to shadow staff members, meet with other interns, get park experience, volunteer in service projects, and of course explore the park! Most of the times that I have gone up to Rocky on my own time in the past have usually been on weekends. Of course those are the busiest days for the park so with my time up here it’ll be interesting to see how busy the park is during the week, but I’ll also have way more time to explore the park than I usually have when I come here. Stay tuned to hear all about it!


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