Senior Park Ranger Ed Keleher speaks to a group of Hayden Elementary School students on Thursday at the Yampa River State Park during a field trip.  The students were looking at fur from a coyote and listening to Keleher's descriptions of the animal and its role in the local ecosystem.

Photo by John F. Russell

Senior Park Ranger Ed Keleher speaks to a group of Hayden Elementary School students on Thursday at the Yampa River State Park during a field trip. The students were looking at fur from a coyote and listening to Keleher's descriptions of the animal and its role in the local ecosystem.

Hands-on learning in Hayden

Students get environmental lesson at Yampa River State Park

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— "Oh, these teeth are sharp," Senior Park Ranger Ed Keleher said. "Give me your arm."

He put the skull's choppers against a boy's skin, administering a light test bite. The crowd went wild, with second- and third-graders clamoring for a chomp.

"I can't bite everybody with it," Keleher protested, setting the skunk skull back on the black carrying case and picking up another sample.

He was explaining herbivores, carnivores and omnivores to a group of Hayden Valley Elementary students at Yampa River State Park. Dozens of second- and third-graders visited the park Thursday afternoon as part of a grant project organized by Yampatika, a nonprofit environmental education organization.

The children passed through three stations while learning about park rangers, plant and animal life and their environment. Laura Voorhees' second-grade class crowded around naturalist Elaine Sturges in the park's Visitor Center. They had just peered over tubs of pond water, pointing out water bugs and mayfly larva.

Sturges was showing the group two illustrations of a lake.

"Why is lake two going to be healthy up here?" she asked.

"Because it doesn't have any trash around it," a boy volunteered. That's right, Sturges said, launching a discussion about pollution.

Voorhees' class already knew a bit about the subject. Although Yampatika organized the park outing, the pupils had touched on pollution by reading books in class.

"We did a little bit of talking about the environment," Voorhees said. "We talked about the importance of throwing trash away and read some books about how long trash stays around. : They could tell you plastic stays around for 500 years. That fact stuck with them."

Keleher started his presentation again for the next group of kids. After running through an explanation of what park rangers do - "Who wants to get paid to ride a four-wheeler?" - he asked the kids whether they knew the area's primary predators. The crew came up with them: mountain lions and bears.

"You know what I have in this room right here?" Keleher asked. "I have a bear. A real bear."

A chorus of "oohs" burst from the class.

"But I keep it in this box," Keleher said, pulling out a blue plastic bin.

"Oh, it's a skin," a boy murmured.

Not as exciting as a real black bear, maybe, but they all dove forward to pet it when Keleher spread it on the table.

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