The typical mid-week silence that falls over Stagecoach State Park during the winter was broken last week for what quickly is becoming a favorite South Routt School District tradition.
Wednesday was Winter Studies Day for Soroco Middle School students, a chance for students and teachers to enjoy a day of outdoor activities in the heart of the district's most draining academic quarter.
Former Soroco Middle School science teacher Kate Hayne started the event 12 years ago to break up the monotony of the third quarter by providing students and faculty a day of activities that incorporate teamwork, responsibility and learning. The tradition carried on last week as dozens of seventh- and eighth-graders met at the park to ice fish, snowshoe, cook, play broomball, cross-country ski, build fires, make snow sculptures and participate in other activities.
The students rotated between activities in small groups led by National Honor Society high school students, parent volunteers and AmeriCorps school-based mentors. At one station, students built an outdoor fire and roasted marshmallows while an AmeriCorps mentor told ghost stories.
Near the shore of the frozen reservoir, Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers Glen Hammond and Adam Christman taught students how to use avalanche beacons and probing poles. Students were able to practice their newfound knowledge by using the beacons to search for backpacks buried in the snow.
On the reservoir, a team of Colorado Division of Wildlife employees taught students how to ice fish. The lesson included tips on surviving a fall through the ice and the best ways to catch fish during the winter.
Superintendent Steve Jones ferried groups of students to the reservoir's hydroelectric dam, and retired teacher Ed Hayne, Kate's husband, led a painting activity. Students also made snow candles, built snow sculptures, tackled an obstacle course, cooked beef stew and made apricot cobbler, played broomball, and got a lesson about orienteering. Each student chose the three activities he or she wanted to do.
After three hours of activities, the students and volunteers retreated to the park's main building to eat homemade chili. After lunch, the students competed in their own version of Steamboat Ski Area's Cardboard Classic. Groups of students constructed sleds out of cardboard, which were pulled by fellow students in a "dog sled race."
"We all needed this break," English teacher Kristi Spence said. "I think the kids just really need to burn off energy and spend time together."
Winter Studies Day also provides a chance for students to see their teachers in a different setting, which can strengthen their relationships, Spence said. For some students, Winter Studies Day is their first opportunity to try new activities.
Soroco Middle School and High School Principal James Chamberlin credited the day's volunteers, including Colorado State Parks employees, for making Winter Studies Day possible.
Wayne Olsen, a park manager at Stagecoach State Park, said he and his fellow park employees enjoy the day as much as the students do.
"The kids just get thrilled by it," Olsen said. "And it's fun for the staff, too, because it gives us a fun day during the work week.
"It's kind of a fun South Routt tradition."