For nearly a decade now, 6th grade students from Delta County have gathered at Cottonwood Grove campground as the leaves begin to turn to learn about the web of life that connects the Gunnison River to us all.
This year was no different as the next generation of students took the rocky, narrow route across the high desert and down into the heart of Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (NCA) to learn about and experience nature at the 2017 Cottonwood Days, hosted by the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Canyons Association.
Nearly 400 students made the journey down into The Gorge under perfect early fall skies to see the sights and sounds of Cottonwood Days. The Gunnison Gorge Anglers worked diligently to teach every single student who arrived how to tie a "San Juan worm," a basic and useful fly that will help them discover fly fishing, a popular pastime across the western slope and especially in the Gold Ribbon trout waters of the Gunnison River.
Trout and other fish of the Gunnison River were on display at the station run by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Here students not only saw Rainbow and Brown Trout, along with a variety of native fish like the Flannelmouth Sucker, but they also had the opportunity to assist CPW staff with real-world field biology techniques used to study these species. Connecting students to the river and outdoor professions in this hands-on way is one of the key components of all of our CCA education events.
Next up, was the macroinvertebrate station where students learned about the vast array of invertebrate life that lives in the Gunnison River. Students helped BLM interns and staff net invertebrates and collect rocks that form microhabitats before examining their finds under the scope. This is a great way to tie the fish they just saw into their food, and into why anglers tie complex lures into certain shapes. Students were able to examine additional flies and make connections between those and the live insects they had found.
The Web of Life station helped tie all the components of the ecosystem together, from fish to birds to trees, all the way back to the source of all energy on Earth, the Sun. As students made direct connections between themselves and the environment around them, they saw the larger picture of how all life is interconnected.
Finally, students were able to discover how native peoples, both past and present, were able to use the riverside resources to help them survive. By tying people into the web of life students understood that it isn’t just animals and plants in our NCAs that rely on each other, but also all humans. Students made willow twig figurines before closing with a Leave No Trace lesson.
We are so grateful for to the Bureau of Land Management for all the help, support, and assistance with this event. We especially want to thank all the volunteers that helped throughout the week at Cottonwood Days.
Without volunteers like YOU, events like this would not be possible!