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Colorado’s beauty is for everyone to enjoy: A trip on the trail


On the heels of a thoroughly ground-soaking rain at the Nature Center last week, a group of energetic boys from Ignacio and I slipped and slid down the Rattlesnake Ramble trail. Comments like, “When’s lunch time?,” “My shoes are dirty, my legs are tired,” “I wish I could play Minecraft right now,” dominated the first part of the hike. But as I helped redirect the students’ attention to things like the fresh raccoon tracks in the mud, soaring turkey vultures overhead, the taste of three leaf sumac berries, and pleasant smell of crushed up juniper leaves the conversation began to shift: “Ms. Rachael, can I go catch that lizard?!,” “Will we find a rattlesnake like before?,” “Look at this mold (aka lichen) on the rocks.”

I smiled as the students began to forget about the heavy mud caked to their shoes and the T.V. shows they were missing, and instead became immersed in the natural world around them. We learned about erosion, predators and prey, and what to do if you encounter a bear or mountain lion (NOT to run away and risk looking like prey). By the time we returned to their bus, the students were happily comparing stories of the animals they saw, a bit more sweaty and muddy, but full of smiles and exclamations of, “Let’s do this again!”

Many of us living in this region tend to believe that everyone here has equal opportunities to experience the great outdoors, but the longer I work at the San Juan Mountains Association in outdoor education the more I realize this isn’t the case. I’ve been amazed at how many fourth-grade students I’ve taken on their first field trip or how many kids go on their first hike with us. Yes, we are surrounded by a plethora of natural beauty, but it’s not always that easy for schools and families to get their children outside. At SJMA, we see firsthand the impact that the wonders of our natural world have not only on students’ self esteem and ability to learn complex concepts, but also in how these experiences often inspire them to become lifelong stewards of its care.

With this in mind, SJMA’s education team is continuously providing opportunities for outdoor education and exploration to schools and families. This fall we are excited to announce several new programs geared toward meeting these needs. We will be launching a new tuition free, standards aligned, weekly Outdoor Explorers Homeschool Program. Also, with support from La Plata County and in partnership with Mountain Studies Institute, we have begun Friday programs for Ignacio and Bayfield students as their school districts have transitioned to a four-day school week. My rambunctious group of boys at the Nature Center last week were the test pilots for this new program, and we’re all excited for more.

In addition, we are continuing our staple after-school San Juan Science Ramblers program, along with programming with La Escuelita in conjunction with MSI and La Plata Open Space Conservancy. We are also thrilled to once again partner with Durango School District to provide science classroom and field trips for Kindergarten through fifth grade students.

Needless to say, our education team has begun a busy Fall season, and we are excited to get to work with so many different niches within our region.

To learn more about SJMA’s education programs, visit https://sjma.org/learn/

Rachael Taylor, the community education manager at SJMA, is passionate about getting kids outside and seeking water-related adventures