Mapping out the future

4-H members using technology to tackle growing problem of noxious weeds

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Steamboat Springs 15-year-old Cass Sisto considers himself lucky.

He and five of his peers are part of a Routt County 4-H Community Mapping Team that's receiving nationwide attention for an innovate project using technology to tackle the growing state and local problem of invasive weeds.

Beginning last spring with funding and support from the Orton Family Foundation, six Routt County 4-H members and youth agent Jay Whaley undertook a project that used global positioning system, or GPS, devices and mapping software to find, mark and map tamarisk and Russian olive weed populations. Routt County Weed Control Supervisor Matt Custer also was influential in the project.

Much of the work was performed at Elkhead Reservoir State Park, where in April the team worked with park rangers to locate weeds around the reservoir.

Armed with GPS devices, the students walked and boated around the reservoir's perimeter looking for Russian olive and tamarisk. Locations where either weed was discovered were marked using satellite coordinates.

Using those marks, or waypoints, the 4-H students used a computer mapping program to produce images of the reservoir and corresponding weed locations. Those maps eventually will be presented to park officials, who plan to use the information to help control weed populations, Whaley said.

Park manager Ron DellaCroce praised the efforts of the 4-H students and volunteers.

"For us to be able to get kids out on Elkhead (Reservoir) and have them map the unwanted vegetation was really important," DellaCroce said. The information will help the park prepare for future reservoir expansion and meet its statutory requirement to control noxious weeds.

"I hope they can keep it up and running," DellaCroce said. "It's not one of those things you see come around too often."

The mapping project spawned several separate projects by the students, including weed mapping at a ranch and a Hayden town park.

The six 4-H students -- Sisto and his brother Spencer, Tyler Manzanares, Jennifer Epp, Andy Morell and Emily Hallenbeck -- have enjoyed working with new technology, Whaley said.

"It's new and exciting," he said. "It's kind of different than the cows and cooking that people think 4-H is about."

Projects such as this one represent part of the future of 4-H, Whaley said. He and the students are in St. Louis this weekend to present their work to 300 4-H members from across the country at National 4-H Technology Leadership Conference.

"We're kind of lucky," Cass Sisto said. "This is new technology."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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