Steamboat Springs Dylan Osias had never left the state of Florida until last week, when the six-year-old's parents took him and his brother to see the Rocky Mountains.
As Dylan descended the trail to Fish Creek Falls with his 10-year-old brother, Mitchell, they tumbled over each other, pointing out golden-mantled ground squirrels and raising a ruckus with their incessant inquiries.
For each question raised, Yampatika volunteer Elaine Sturges had an answer.
"Why are there few trees on this south-facing slope?" asked Sturges, who led the Osias clan on a Yampatika-sponsored Fish Creek Falls nature hike Thursday. "Because the snow melts faster here due to more sunshine. It shows how water shapes our environment and landscape."
Yampatika, a Steamboat Springs-based nonprofit educational and interpretational organization, was established in 1992 by a group of community members and government agencies that sought to provide environmental interpretation in a rural setting, according to the center's executive director, Jenn Wright.
"The mission is to inspire environmental stewardship through education," said Wright, who noted the organization is evolving from its roots as a cultural learning and environment center to focus more on environmental interpretation.
"We still teach visitors of the cultural resources as a part of the environmental story of this valley," she said. "Yampatikans were the original founders of this area, and there is still the story to tell about the link between the natural and cultural world."
Wright said the organization's short-term goal is to implement environmental programs for fifth-grade students in the Routt and Moffat County public schools. She said Yampatika has raised half the funds to make the program happen.
"We are partnering with the Storm Peak Laboratory to develop a climate change and weather program geared toward children," said Wright, who said she envisions the program as three days of classroom, laboratory and outdoor exercises.
"We want to bring naturalists into the classrooms and provide an introduction to the concepts of climate change and weather," she said. "The second day, they would travel up to Storm Peak, taking measurements on barometric pressure, wind speed and gathering other data as they go up the mountain. The third day would be a follow-up with them to see if they have drawn any conclusions."
Wright said she has approached fifth-grade teachers in both counties about the progam and received an enthusiastic response. Her next step is to address administrators.
"We live in a culture where so many kids are plugged in," she said. "Entertainment is handed to them, and they don't go out and explore the natural world. Most people my age grew up playing in their backyard. We are really teaching kids to inquire and seek and to not just have the answers given to them."
Wright said Yampatika also has variety programs geared toward adults, including llama treks into the Flat Tops Wilderness, nature photography workshops, geology walks and winter activities such as skiing with a naturalist and discovering Steamboat's backcountry.
"Yampatika is not about coming to the center and sitting in a classroom," she said. "We get them out of the classroom and into the natural setting."
Wright said the center hopes to organize a lecture series this winter on environmental issues concerning the Yampa Valley, and that Yampatika will continue to evolve and move away from a dependency on retail sales that previously has directed the center's efforts.
"We now sell primarily books and maps that directly relate to our mission as a nonprofit organization and our local environment," she said. " And all our programs fall into our mission of stewardship. I hope we help people make reasonable decisions to take care of these amazing resources we have."
Andy and Tami Osias said the family's week in Colorado has exposed their children to a natural environment that's more vivid than what any school lesson or textbook could describe.
"My boys have always been inquisitive and in the top of their class in school," she said. "In Florida, we have alligators, not bears. They'll bring this back to their friends and hopefully hold on to some of what they learned."
For more information about Yampatika, call 871-9151 or visit www.yampatika.org.