Steamboat Springs Naturalist Tobias Bank immediately was surrounded and smothered by children Thursday afternoon when he invited a big group of them to come and examine the giant fir tree that towered behind him.
From the moment the children in the Yampatika summer program arrived at the Yampa River Botanic Park, they were in learning mode and wanted to touch everything they were allowed to touch.
These trips and field experiences are common for children and students who live and visit in Routt County where there is access to a robust environmental education program.
Any kindergarten through fifth grade public school teacher in Routt County who wants his or her students to have access to the Yampatika's environmental literacy program can do so.
Families even come from the Front Range to take advantage of Yampatika's programming in the summer.
But how can other communities and school districts in Colorado have access to the same programs?
That will be one of the questions facing a new regional council of environmental education leaders, business people and others will start to tackle later this month when it meets for the first time at a science school in Avon.
"One of the first tasks is to develop an inventory of the programming we have," Yampatika Executive Director Sonja Macys said. "Who is doing what? What schools and school districts have access to environmental education? Then we'll look at the gaps and find out what is needed."
Macys serves on the Colorado Environmental Education Leadership Council, which advises the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
The council specifically is working to help implement the Colorado Environmental Education Plan and has been tasked with forming the regional councils to help in the process.
Among other things, the environmental education plan calls for more field experience for students and more professional development for educators, according to the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.
Macys said one of the first steps was for her and the other council members to get the regional councils seated.
The one in Northwest Colorado covers nine counties including Routt and Moffat.
Macys said the Yampatika programming here in Routt County is being looked at as a model for educators in the state.
Grant funding also soon will allow Yampatika's programming to be adopted and replicated in other communities where students currently don't have those opportunities.
Macys isn't the only local who will play a role in implementing the statewide environmental education plan.
Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Director Sarah Jones and Colorado State Forest Service Forester Carolina Manriquez will serve on the regional council.
"It's a pretty interesting and exciting time for environmental education," Macys said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10