Every Kid in a Park- Winter Field Trips

kids on skis rasing poles in air

It’s the home run on the County Line Nordic ski trail on the Grand Mesa- as groups of fourth graders glided to the finish. Their faces were lit up with exuberant smiles reflecting a new confidence achieved from completing the loop on cross country skis. “This accomplishment is no small feat for these kids, most of whom have never been on skis before,” says Anita Evans, Skis for Kids Coordinator with the Grand Mesa Nordic Council.  “It takes coordination, balance, focus and most importantly - the desire to get yourself up when you fall and keep trying,” she added. 

It was a beautiful, blue sky, Colorado day with sun radiating and sparkling off the snow as the young skiers inspected the intricacies of ice crystals forming the deep winter snowpack around them. “How exactly do animals survive up here during the cold, snowy winters?” asks Cody Purcell, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologist. Purcell presented samples of wildlife pelts, examined by the students while he explained each animal’s adaptions to surviving our winters. The students learned that fur, fat and feathers are keys to species survival. 

“The kids are out here experiencing the winter environment all around them - this kind of discovery accompanied with hands-on activities is a pretty effective take-away for them,” says Priscilla Williams, Forest Service Education Specialist. “Following a classroom presentation and field trip the students complete the Junior Snow Ranger booklet. When the kids finish the booklet, they are awarded an official badge, bandana and card - a sweet seal to the Junior Snow Ranger deal,” she added.

On scene, student’s lined up along the ski track after slapping on their bindings, grabbing their poles, and pulling themselves up by their (ski) boot straps. They had plenty of time to practice balance and gain agility throughout the day, and quickly learned that ‘to fall’ is simply an inevitability of Nordic skiing. As they skied, students observe the transformation of the snow from powder to ice to slush directly under their skis - nature can be its own teacher. The sun or wind are the agents that sculpt the uniqueness of snowflakes - each one constantly changing with time. Acquiring the knowledge to detect the changing snow conditions connects students to an understanding of the basics of snow layers and how avalanches happen. “It is important for us to emphasize the aspects of winter safety in the outdoors - avalanche awareness is key as well as learning to fully prepare yourself by dressing in layers, bringing extra food and water,” added Williams.

“Every Kid in a Park” is a new grant program through the National Park Foundation that awarded the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest funding to cover bus transportation for these field trips for several fourth grade classes from Delta, San Miquel and Mesa Country School Districts. This funding has allowed over 360 fourth graders to experience the National Forest this winter. The GMUG National Forest and its many partners just received another grant to acquire more ski gear for smaller feet in an effort to expand this program to more fourth graders next year.

“We want young children to be connected to nature and to our forest because it truly is the ultimate classroom,” Williams explained. As these children grow up - we hope these types of experiences will stay with them as they continue to cultivate a deeper affinity to the outdoors.

Now imagine yourself reaching for your own ski poles and gliding along a trail on a beautiful winter day on your National Forest. It’s all yours - go play!

volunteers handing out skis to lined up kids

Students line up to receive their ski gear. The trailer and much of the equipement was acquired through a "More Kids in the Woods" grant from the Forest Service. 

skiers gliding along a fresh snowy trail line of kids skiing

(Left) Students follow a snowy trail on the Grand Mesa.(Right) It's the home  stretch! The new skiers are getting the hang of the glide.

ranger and kids measuring snow depth boy packing snow in container

(Left) Student measure snowpack depth as part of the Snow-Water Equivalency Activity. (Right) Student's pack a canister with snow, which is melted to determine the water content. Through math extrapolation they estimate the water content in the snow pack.

Bioloigst pointing to table with animal pelts layed out biologist measuring temps of a test tube

(Left) Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologist discuss the various animal pelts and how fur insulates animals in winter.  (Right) Next, the biologists conduct the "Cozy Critters" Activity where students experiment with different types of insulation to keep their critter (test tube) warm in winter.

volunteer tying  kids ski boots girl on stride with skis

(Left) Many volunteers helped to lace and tighten lots of  ski boots. (Right) Once geared up, the kids were ready to try the glide.

ranger shoving off a snow layer from snowpack sixth grade boy cross country skiing downhill

(Left) Kids skied by the snow pit- where they were able to see the various layers of the snow pack so far this winter. (Right) This student is definitely experiencing the thrill of the chill.

young skier getting a high five from smokey 2 boys peeking out of  a snow cave

(Left) Smokey was at the finish to high five the students as they succcessfully completed the ski loop. (Right) After building a "qinze', these two students crawled in to experience first hand how snow can be an effective insulation in winter.

kids sitting on trail eating lunch three students smiling

(Left) A much deserved lunch break on the ski trail. (Right) Not your typical school field trip!

kids posing iwth JSR banner girl smiling and holding up card

All students received a Junior Snow Ranger (JSR) card, bandanna, and shield after completing the JSR booklet.

groups of students p[osing with smokey and EKIP banner

The National Park Foundation awarded the Forest Service a transportation grant to cover bus costs to bring 184 fourth graders to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest this winter.  Over 300 fourth graders and over 400 fifth and sixth graders explored the forest, tried nordic skiing  and experienced the "thrill of the chill" in 2016.