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Volunteering: Donating Time, Fixing Trails, And Breaking Records

FortCollins NaturalAreas BlueBrown

 

Last November I wrote about outdoor volunteering opportunities in Northern Colorado. It was a pretty large list of options and ultimately inspired me to adopt Eagle View Natural Area to clean up every month with my family (and any readers that might want to join us).

Boy, did that Natural Area need a lot of help. It’s closed to the public and needs to be rehabilitated because it was formerly an illegal dumping ground. So gross, especially for all of the critters and birds around there.

 

Since then I recently received a press release from the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department on how our local volunteers have been breaking records. Yes, breaking volunteering records. If that’s a thing, then count Fort Collins on doing it.

 

In 2014, over 1,500 volunteers shared their time and talents. They donated 13,849 hours helping with everything from educational activities to trail building. That is a value of $310,001 (independentsector.org) and the equivalent hours of 6.6 employees. It is also the most hours ever donated and 3,200 hours more than 2013.

Volunteers were involved with a large variety of projects and programs:

Master Naturalists and Assistants led or assisted with 381 field trips, classes and events for 17,600 people of all ages covering topics spanning from archaeology to wildlife to native plants. It was a record-breaking year for participation in educational activities, too!

Volunteer Ranger Assistants welcomed fellow trail users, shared information and served as “eyes and ears” helping to protect local and regional natural areas.

Natural Area Adopters kept natural areas safe and beautiful for people and wildlife alike by picking-up litter.

Service Learning volunteers planted over 4,000 trees, shrubs and wetland plants and picked up nearly 100 bags of trash. Over a thousand volunteers participated in 73 one-day service projects such as trail building, litter clean-up or plantings. They said, “We do it because it is fun and we love to help” or “I want my child to learn about volunteering and appreciate nature” or “Public lands are special and should be cared for by those that use them.”

Restoration Corps volunteered weekly and assisted with Poudre River restoration by planting shrubs and trees. They also helped with weeding, watering, trail maintenance and other flood recovery projects.

Adopt-a-Trail- Trout Unlimited, Ottercares Foundation, REI, Peloton Specialized Bikes, Trailcology and Colorado Addicted Trailbuilders Society committed to three years of service and improved trails at Coyote Ridge, Gateway, McMurry, Reservoir Ridge and Bobcat Ridge natural areas. Adopters constructed new sections of trail, addressed erosion issues and built bridges, causeways and steps.

Native Plant Gardeners kept the native plant garden at the Natural Areas Department’s offices trimmed, weeded, healthy and beautiful.

Citizen Scientists volunteers collected data on dark skies and rare plants which gives managers helpful scientific information for planning and decisions.

Volunteers make Natural Areas better and make this great city an even better place to live. They wouldn’t be the same without such strong community support. If you’re interested in lending a helping hand and a few hours, check out this link for opportunities with the City Of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department. There are still many Natural Areas that could use some clean up!

 

 

 

Colorado Youth Outdoors Program Review: something in it for everyone

CYO

My twin teenagers, Jake and Dane, love reading, drawing and building elaborate Lord of the Rings Middle Earth dioramas out of LEGOS in their bedroom. That’s all good stuff, so they often need convincing to leave home and hit the trail. But once I get them out in nature it’s like magic, and we almost always have a great time.

To make the negotiations easier, I’m constantly on the lookout for outdoor places and activities with blatant kid appeal. Colorado Youth Outdoors (CYO) totally fits the bill.

CYO is a local nonprofit that brings teens and parents closer through fun outdoor activities like fishing, archery, trap shooting and fly tying. The CYO Outdoor Recreation Program is a 12-week session offered every spring and fall. Participants meet one evening a week at CYO’s 240-acre Swift Ponds property located just east of I-25 between Windsor and Fort Collins. The private outdoor campus features a trap shooting range, archery ranges, 12 stocked ponds and a brand-new 5,000-s.f. indoor classroom facility that should be completed in March.

12-week Program Requirements:

  • open to students in 8th grade and above
  • parent, guardian or mentor participation is mandatory
  • $50 fee, but scholarships are available
  • register online (next session begins February 25, 2015)
  • payment can be made online, or by check or cash on the first night
  • wear closed-toe shoes, and bring appropriate layers in case of crummy weather

Colorado Youth Outdoors

Jake, Dane, my boyfriend Sam and I signed up for the 2014 fall session. We met every Wednesday night between 5:30pm and 8pm (depending on the activity). This was the schedule from August 20 through November 5:

Week 1 – welcome to CYO, intro to spin fishing
Week 2 – spin fishing
Week 3 – intro to fly casting and fly fishing
Week 4 – fly fishing
Week 5 – intro to archery
Week 6 – archery
Week 7 – trap shooting safety orientation
Week 8 – trap shooting
Week 9 – trap shooting
Week 10 – trap shooting
Week 11 – fly tying (indoors)
Week 12 – fly tying and “game feast” potluck (indoors)

Swift Ponds

Major Disclaimer: I know CYO better than most participants. As a freelancer, I did some writing for CYO. I’m on a first-name basis with staff. Having said that, I’ll be extra careful to share my family’s story for what it is and strive to be impartial.

Overall, CYO has a good formula for their outdoor recreation program, which offered a hands-on experience every week. All equipment and supplies were provided, so the $25 fee per person was a killer deal considering the quantity of supplies needed, and the good quality and condition of their equipment. They also have no problem if you prefer to use your own equipment from home.

 

Weeks 1 – 4: FISHING

Swift Ponds Sunset
On the first nights of spin and fly fishing, CYO staff and volunteers introduced us to the equipment and discussed technique. Then we were turned loose to try our luck at any of the 12 ponds, which were stocked with bass, blue gill and trout. They let us fish until sunset each week, so I often packed sandwiches for dinner. Instructors would walk around to answer questions and share what was biting. Believe me, you WILL catch fish here! We lucked out with the weather, so these reflective, late summer evenings were some of my favorite times during the 12-week program.

 

Weeks 5 – 6: ARCHERY

Archery
Dane picked up archery years ago, so he brought his own compound bow from home. Jake was never a big fan of archery, so he used one of CYO’s bows … and loved it! During the first night of archery we learned about equipment and form, discussed safety protocol on the range, and shot arrows at foam and straw bale targets. The second week we had a ton of fun shooting the entire time. Again, we had great weather, which really added to the experience.

 

Weeks 7 – 10: TRAP SHOOTING

Dane's Sunset
This part of the program was the biggest test for our group. Sam grew up with shotguns, but the boys and I were 100% newbies. Still, the three of us were excited to learn how to shoot airborne clay targets – especially Jake.

We had a weather cancellation Week 7, so trap shooting was condensed into three nights. Sam was able to help Dane quite a bit. The two of them felt comfortable with their 20-gauge shotgun and literally had a blast.

As a first-timer, the orientation felt rushed to me. On top of that, Jake and I were handed a 12-gauge shotgun, which kicked hard into Jake’s shoulder. He left that night with his shoulder and ego badly bruised. Jake was determined to try again the next week. As he shouldered a much smaller gun, I could see the panic in his eyes. He mustered his courage, raised the shotgun, called for the clay and pulled the trigger. Then he opened the action, handed me the gun and said, “Mom, I don’t want to fire a shotgun ever again.” I looked him in the eyes and said, “You don’t have to.” We returned the shotgun to the rack and went for a beautiful walk instead.

So as Dane shot his 20-gauge and hit seven clays that night with Sam, Jake aimed my camera at the sky and shot this stunning sunset.

The beauty of having twins is the daily reminder that no two people are alike. My boys help me appreciate and celebrate differences. They teach me to listen and respect their wishes when they say, “No thanks … this isn’t for me.”

I shared our experience with CYO’s executive director Bob Hewson who responded with, “Becky, I cannot thank you enough for your communication. My thanks go out further to Jake for standing up for his opinion …” He went on to thank us for reminding him that there are opportunities to grow relationships outside of the set curriculum. “Jake spoke out for the betterment of the team/organization. How awesome is that!”

CYO staff made sure that Jake and I had fishing poles the following week. How awesome is that?!

 

Weeks 11 – 12: FLY TYING and GAME FEAST

Fly tying
We moved to an indoor classroom for the fly tying evenings. Each of us had our own tying vice and supplies. Instructors helped us create wooly buggers, beetles, ants and more. The final two weeks gave us the opportunity to get to know other parents and students a little better. And the game feast on the last night was a fun potluck where everyone brought food and stories to share.

 

Final thoughts about the 12-week CYO Outdoor Recreation Program from our family foursome:

DANE:
“Spin fishing was the BEST PART! The game feast was delicious. CYO was fun and something I would definitely do again.”

Fishing at CYO

 

JAKE:
“Archery was AWESOME! Make sure you feel comfortable shooting a gun first before you even worry about hitting anything. CYO was fun, but I don’t think I would do it again.”

Jake

 

SAM:
“There were a few bumps along the way, but overall this was a fantastic program focused on getting kids out into the hunting/fishing world, teaching self-reliance, and helping them work on self-confidence, even if the position they ended up taking was not what might have been expected. For me, the most valued time I spent was getting to know Dane and Jake and sneaking glimpses of what makes each of them tick. I would do CYO again in a heartbeat.”

Sam

 

BECKY:
“CYO made it easy to unplug, slow down and connect with each other outside. It was wonderful to watch Sam and the boys bond over fishing lures and slaying the foam bear. Most importantly, I learned something new and wonderful about every member of our foursome, including myself. We emerged on the other side of this shared 12-week experience as a tighter-knit team. The way Bob and CYO handled Jake’s trap shooting experience made me a fan for life. I’m not sure I would do CYO again myself, but I would definitely recommend it to others.”

Becky

 

The 2015 spring session for CYO’s Outdoor Recreation Program begins February 25. Registration is limited to 30 parent-child pairs (60 individuals). If registration is full, the fall session begins in August. And if you enjoy volunteering, CYO is always on the lookout for good mentors and program instructors.

Contact Brad Wright, bwright@coloradoyo.org or 970-663-0800, for more information. Or visit www.coloradoyo.org.

 

 

Weekend Adventure Report

7 days off for a break, 6 days of straight hiking, 36+ miles logged, and each day a new area explored. So, this isn’t really the Weekend Adventure Report, but more like the Week Adventure Report. I did not let one minute of our fake spring slip by me and I spent time at Fort Collins Natural Areas, State Parks, Open Spaces, and National Parks. It was an awesome hikecation!

Here’s a rundown of where I went and what you might want to add to your outdoor hit list once the snow starts to melt again (or not). You can also see all of the photos posted up on Fresh Air Fort Collins on Instagram. Plan on seeing some of these places as future blog posts with more in depth trail and fishing reports this summer, too.

 

Kingfisher Point Natural Area

Great Western Sugar Beet Company

This section of the Poudre trail and Poudre River is tucked in between the industrial area behind Mulberry and historical remnants of our sugar beet farming days here in Fort Collins. While it’s not the prettiest of places to hang out, there is some good river fishing (Bill would fly fish here often during the summers), and the history is pretty interesting too. But, I’m a history nerd and find historical tidbits of our trails and land just as interesting as hiking them.

 

Maxwell Natural Area

Hiking The A

The Foothills Trail starts here and wraps around the mountain and connects to a bunch of different spots around Horsetooth Reservoir. But, this is also how you get to the “A” behind Hughes Stadium. It’s a very popular trail with trail runners, dog walkers, and mountain bikers. Frankly, it was the most polite trail I’ve ever been on – EVER – with everyone practicing great trail etiquette and thanking each other for the courtesy.

The A

 

It was also the dirties trail I’ve ever been on – EVER – in Fort Collins because people refuse to pick up after their dog. No, no, I take that back. They pick up after their dog, but then they toss the poop-filled bag into the bushes. This trail is available for adoption if you’d like to help keep it clean. It looks like the City of Fort Collins is having a hard time with this spot.

 

Eagle’s Nest Open Space

Eagle's Nest Open Space

Eagle's Nest Rock

Views for days, and rarely a soul on the trail. This is an Open Space to get some mountain solitude, along with some secret fly fishing spots. It’s a very easy trail system and a great one to knock off your list while the rattlesnakes are still hibernating until April. Why everyone keeps crowding Horsetooth and Devil’s Backbone while ignoring areas like this is beyond me. Spread out, people of Fort Collins!

 

Devil’s Backbone Open Space

The Keyhole at Devil's Backbone

This is another spot that is jam-packed with people every weekend, but if you’re here during the weekdays when most people are working 9-5, you’ll have some shoulder room to spare. It’s kind of disappointing to hike trails with views of McMansions in the background, but what can you do.

 

Bobcat Ridge Natural Area

bobcat ridge

deer at bobcat ridge

I LOVED this place!! Plenty of history to geek out on, trails all to myself, sunset over the prairie, mule deer munching on grass above the trail, and some interesting terrain to tackle. I’m not sure how busy it gets on the weekend, but rest assured, I’ll be back to hike the whole system, and I can’t wait!

 

Arthur’s Rock at Lory State Park

Arthurs Rock

Lory State Park

Bobcat tracks, mountain lion tracks, deer bones, super icy and slick trails, and the beginning of blooming cactus. This was another great hike with views for miles and miles. Also, when park rangers post signs that the bottom half of the trail is icy and suggest taking alternate routes – follow directions. They aren’t kidding about the level of slick down there.

 

Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooth Res

Orchard Cove

sunset at horsetooth

What’s a hikeation without a few stops to Horsetooth Reservoir to soak up some sun rays, have a snack and watch some sunsets?

 

Lady Moon trail in Redfeather Lakes

Lady Moon Trail

I thought it would be drier up here for some reason, but mud season is in full swing. So much that I decided the trail damage wasn’t worth it and turned around after going through the meadow, especially since I wore the wrong hiking shoes for the conditions. But, this is high on my list this spring when the wildflowers bloom. It’s going to be GORGEOUS!

 

Parvin Lake

Parvin Lake

We tend to fish here often during the summer, so it was fun to pop in to see how far along the ice melt had come during fake spring. I’m looking forward to some belly boating days here soon enough! Well, not too soon now that we’re back into winter conditions…

 

West Lake

ice fishing on west lake

The lake was melted in some spots, but that didn’t stop a few diehards from ice fishing on it.

 

Dowdy Lake

Dowdy Lake

There were a lot of people fishing from the shores, a few people ice fishing on the lake, and bald eagles soaring above the water.

 

Fern Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fern Lake Trail

Fern Lake

I spent Valentine’s Day, my last day of hikecation hiking up here, in the subalpine where my heart and soul belong. I’ve not hiked this trail before, and this is another one that I’ll be back to this summer. I stopped at The Pool since I didn’t bother bringing snowshoes, poles, or microspikes, but it was still a beautiful hike nonetheless. There is almost nothing better than the views of the mountain tops against the bright blue Colorado sky with the heavy scent of evergreen in the air. This is heaven.