This year's Yampa River Ecology Project, which pairs first-graders with high school biology students to learn about the natural environment, has left its fingerprints on Routt County.
There are 830 newly planted tree seedlings along Butcherknife Creek Trail, new vegetation at Yampa River State Park and more trees and shrubs in the Flat Tops Wilderness and on Gore Pass, as well as some data about aquatic insects at Stagecoach dam and Sarvis Creek, all a result of the project.
"I would say it was definitely a success this year," said Elaine Sturges, co-facilitator of the project.
The students who participated said that the project was worthwhile and that they would like to do it again, and teachers agreed, Sturges said.
This year, the Legacy Education Foundation funded the project's $2,500 price tag, and more than $11,000 of in-kind work was provided with the help of volunteers and school districts. It was the sixth year that the project has been a part of Routt County schools. All three school districts participate.
About 300 students from Soroco middle and high schools, Hayden High School, Steamboat Springs High School, Soda Creek Elementary School and Strawberry Park Elementary School become "study buddies" for the school year. Classes are paired, and students are paired individually.
Through the program, students take field trips to the Stagecoach Wetland Trail, Carpenter Ranch, Finger Rock Fish Hatchery and other places. Students then write books about the trips and read them to their study buddies.
The program culminates in stewardship projects across the county. As with all parts of the program, the stewardship projects are rooted in teaching -- students learn how planting trees or shrubs, for example, benefits the environment.
The first-graders look up to their study buddies, learn about science and stewardship and improve their reading, writing and math skills in the process, Sturges said. The high school students gain confidence and learn how to teach younger students.
All students learn more about the environment around them, which Sturges said is the first step to being a steward of the environment.
"If they learn about their natural environments, they're more apt as they grow older ... to take care of it," Sturges said.