By Julia Caulfield
It’s a cool spring morning with a light breeze. Birds are chirping as ninety kindergartners, 1st, and 2nd graders are piling onto the Valley Floor after walking from the elementary school. The forecasted rain and show are holding off for the moment, but by the end of the morning a wintery mix is pelting down, making the whole experience a notably colder one.
The students are on a field trip for the 2nd annual Valley Floor Education Day. Over the course of about two hours, they rotate through four different stations to learn about different parts of the ecosystem – from pond, to river, to willows, to forest. Surrounded by the sound of the rushing San Miguel River, wind blowing through the trees, and birds singing, the banging of construction equipment is the only real reminder that we’re a just a short walk from town.
“The Valley Floor is our backyard, so that’s where we should be educating kids…” says Sarah Holdbrooke, the Executive Director of the Pinhead Institute.
Valley Floor Education Day is a collaboration between the Pinhead Institute, Sheep Mountain Alliance, and the Telluride Institute’s Watershed Education Program.
Holbrooke says, beyond being in Telluride’s backyard, there are multiple reasons to bring kids onto the Valley Floor.
“I mean number one just exercise, right? ... Secondly, my gosh, what a beautiful valley we have, so even if all they do is enjoy the few wild flowers that are growing now, or see the clouds coming in and enjoy that, or notice the threatening weather about to descend on us, that’ll be a good lesson. But boy, we have amazing scientists who are devoting their time...so hopefully the kids will leave with an understanding of what ducks live on the pond, or what fish live in the river, or what you can do with willow branches, or what it’s like to spend a little mindfulness…out in nature” says Holbrooke.
The focus for Valley Floor Education Day centers around STEM learning – that’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And the stations each bring in different elements of the learning curriculum.
At the pond station students get to investigate the wildlife that lives both above and below the water. They look at birds through a scope, and get up close and personal with insects and other small organisms.
Moving on the river station they get to calculate the speed of the river by counting how long it takes for a stick to make it through the current.
Then on to willows where students learn about the Ute people and miners who lived on the Valley Floor in the past.
Finally, the forest station helps students see the connections between a health forest and a health human.
For some, this is their first time on the Valley Floor, but for 1st grader Cooper Zimmermann? This is not his first trip.
“I live here, so, I’ve probably been here a lot” says Cooper.
Cooper says he likes getting to learn about the trees in the area, and learning how to tell if they’re alive or dead. But when asked what the best part is, he says it’s basically everything.
He says, “exploring all of nature and seeing what types of birds and animals there are, and just pretty much looking around.”
Cooper’s mom, Nancy Zimmermann is also on the trip to the Valley Floor. She says it’s important for young kids to come out and experience the Valley Floor because they’ll be the ones protecting it in the future.
“It’s a big part of what makes Telluride special, is this Valley Floor, and the kids growing up here will eventually be the stewards of the Valley Floor when they’re all grown up, and hopefully keep this in perpetuity and pristine conditions for generations to enjoy”, Zimmermann says.
The importance of building a connection with the land is something Lexi Tuddenham, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, acknowledges as well.
“It’s a real way to both enliven their curiosity about science and nature, and also allow them to develop a sense of place, and develop a connection to the place they’re growing up,” says Tuddenham.
The snow and rain keep the second half of the K-2 students from coming out to the Valley Floor for the afternoon, but don’t worry, they’ll get their chance as soon as the weather clears up.
May 9th is Valley Floor Day. This year celebrates the 12th anniversary of the Valley Floor becoming open space.