This past week I had the chance to work with a high school youth corps from Rocky Mountain Youth Corp. It was a thrilling experience seeing young people eager to learn about the fragile alpine ecosystem and understand the mechanics of how trails are built. These kids, ranging from 14-18 years old, got to see first hand the environmental and social impacts that take place on our sensitive 14er mountains, specifically on Mount Bierstadt, where we see many visitors and a lot of social impacts have been recorded.
Having the youth corps working on Mount Bierstadt allowed us leaders to teach the dos and don’ts of hiking trails within designated Wilderness and how to properly construct trail features. This group got to experience how to construct rock steps, rock water bars and how to restore the alpine. They learned why the alpine vegetation is so fragile and what it must do to thrive in such harsh conditions. These programs where kids can get out and see their natural resources first hand is an excellent educational experience, which allows them to understand the importance of proper land management. It also allows them to see the world in its raw, natural state versus its digital, social media world that a lot are accustomed to living in.
Making it to the work site at about 12,600 ft wasn’t easy for these youngsters, but they kept at it and didn’t let the mountain beat them. They all agreed the first day was the toughest, being we had to hike in rock bars, pick axes, and erosion matting! We were all moving faster after that day!
Quarrying rocks for drains and steps. Most of the group broke off into teams where some worked on setting steps, some on rock water bars, some on erosion matting. We would rotate around so that they all got to have a little taste in every aspect of the work being done.
We had analpine flora and fauna discussion led by Loretta McEllhiney, USDA Forest Service 14ers Program Manager. The group learned a lot of adaptations that the harsh alpine environment must maintain in order to survive. A lot stayed interested, but some just enjoyed the gorgeous views!
Here we see a group laying erosion blankets down to help bring back this heavily trampled area. Sections on the Bierstadt trail are eroding away at a rapid pace, with the help from the RMYC group and these erosion control blankets, maybe some vegetation will start growing back.