High school students from south Routt and elementary school students from Steamboat Springs spent last week bridging the gap between their Routt County hometowns, learning about their environment and beautifying the banks of the Yampa River one tree at a time.
Bridging that gap, though geographically the two towns aren't that far apart, is important, senior Brandon Gilleland said.
Approximately 40 high school students and 35 first-graders spent the morning last Wednesday planting 90 trees, making the virtues of responsibility, compassion and commitment which the Routt County schools regularly promote just a little bit more tangible.
Riding piggy-back and holding hands, the high school juniors and seniors took their first-graders closer to the teachers demonstrating how to transplant saplings into the soil.
First-graders from Soda Creek met with their "mentor' biology students in Soroco's junior and senior classes at Fetcher's Pond to plant buckthorn, aspen and service berry plants as part of the Yampa River Ecology Study, sponsored by grants and donations from the Legacy Education Initiative, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Stagecoach State Park, Steamboat Springs Parks & Recreation and The Dunn Foundation.
The project allowed students to better understand the Yampa River's ecology while interacting with students outside of Soda Creek and Soroco's typical peer groups. As part of the same ecology study, the students have researched water quality, aquatic organisms, riparian wildlife and stewardship. A final public presentation will be held for the community at the project's completion.
Although the 6-year-olds may not fully understand the philosophies behind a joint project like the tree-planting day, they said they had a good time.
"It's awesome!" first-grader Sam Keating said, throwing his arms up in the air and taking a giant leap to prove his enthusiasm.
Both locally and nationwide, organizations and businesses are demonstrating their own enthusiasm for one of Routt County's most innovative, hands-on educational experiences.
The Dunn Foundation, in Warwick, R.I., donated $10,000 to the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation to support the project.
The Dunn Foundation believes that the natural growth of towns and cities has compromised the beauty of these places.
"Excessive signage, strip malls, fast-food franchises, utility poles, elimination of trees and sidewalks for street widening has homogenized our once unique places into a visual nightmare," the board of directors wrote in a letter of support to Elaine Sturges, the coordinator for the Colorado Early Childhood Project Program.
Throughout the year, students will be involved with additional community improvement projects, in the hopes that the projects will improve the community's appearance and bring a sense of place and appreciation to the public's attention, the attention of local children, and to all future stewards of the area.
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