Friday, November 20, 2009
How do other Summit County creatures get ready for the cold months?
If you have hiked around Peak 7 in Breckenridge, you may have seen an elk sometime this year. Like humans, elk wear extra layers in winter — except they grow
their own. In autumn, their sleek copper coat is replaced with lighter-colored layers of woolly fur. They also have the ability to make the hairs stand up from their skin, which helps trap air in their coats and insulates them even better.
Our campus is bordered on the northern edge by the Snake River in Keystone. Sometimes, when we're out with students, we've been lucky enough to spot beavers building their dams or lodges. Beavers start their winter preparations in early fall. They stockpile bark-covered branches to eat through the winter (just the bark, not the wood), and they cover their lodges with a layer of fresh mud, which dries and freezes until it is hard as stone, creating a dry space safe from predators. The beavers enter their lodges through a special underwater entrance only they can access.
Although they live in the mountains all around us, black bears prefer to avoid humans and keep to themselves. All throughout the fall, bears' bodies tell them to put on as much extra weight as possible to get them through the long winter, and the healthiest diet for them is a mix of nuts, berries, and insects (this is one reason it's so important to keep human trash away from bears!). You may have heard bears hibernate in the winter, but black bears aren't considered true hibernators because their body temperatures and heart rates don't drop drastically while they sleep. They do, however, spend the months of December to May sleeping in a den created inside a cave, burrow or hollow tree. Female bears sometimes give birth to cubs during hibernation.
We have lots of squirrels on our campus in Keystone, and kids always enjoy watching them scamper from tree to tree. In the fall, we sometimes see one running with a pine cone in its mouth, heading for a secret hiding place to bury it away for later. During the winter, squirrels use their sense of smell to find their buried treasures, which they dig up and take back to their nests or dens to nibble on and share with their families. Sometimes, when a squirrel doesn't find a seed it has hidden, a tree grows there.
This month, get outside and see if you can spot some of these animals or their homes. A great place to see beaver dams and lodges is in Keystone Gulch, off Soda Ridge Road in Keystone. The ponds in Cucumber Gulch in Breckenridge are also a great spot to see beavers, and elk are often seen there as well. Look up at strong, tall trees as you're walking outside and see if you can spot signs of a squirrel family's nest.
Remember that responsible wildlife watching means putting the needs of the animals before our desire to observe them. In order to keep yourself safe and not disturb the animals, it's important to keep a good distance away (bring a pair of binoculars with you to get a better close-up view). Have fun exploring and observing, and get ready for winter.
The push to “leave no child inside” is on current political agendas across the nation. It’s in all the newspapers and bookstores, all over the internet—the idea of getting young people off the couch, away from TVs and computers, and into the outdoors. It’s what Keystone Science School has been doing for 33 years. Only, we hope not only to get folks outdoors, but also to provide them with critical thinking skills and leadership tools needed to navigate inside board rooms and meeting halls, through challenges in the workplace and heated debates between friends. We use the outdoors as the classroom and the framework to help kids learn about both science and themselves.
We operate Keystone Science School on our 23-acre campus in Keystone. Now, we’re taking it to The Summit Daily with this new monthly column. We hope to serve as a resource for families, a guide for youth, and a thought-provoker for readers. Here’s a little more about us:
In 1975, longtime local Bob Craig founded The Keystone Center as a forum for mediation on contentious scientific policy issues, and started bringing thought leaders and decision-makers from industry, government, and the non-profit community together in Keystone to sit down and work toward solutions together, face to face, without lawyers (he actually took them up on chairlifts – no escaping conversation there). These meetings often resulted in concrete action on tough issues, and Craig began to think about what sort of impact might be made by starting from the ground up, teaching these skills to young people. Kids who grew up with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills might be better able to solve controversial issues as they matured into adults and policy leaders – and even head those issues off before they became divisive. In 1976, he established Keystone Science School as part of The Keystone Center. Since then, more than 80,000 students have engaged in hands-on activities that encourage them to take a hands-on approach to science, to ask questions, and find their own answers. We’ve pushed them to think differently, broaden their perspectives, and become empowered to affect change in ways that are meaningful to them.
Each month, we’ll take the principles that guide us at the Science School and extend them to you, our community. We’ll bring science to life, focusing on such themes as astronomy, snow science, wildlife, youth development, and just plain getting outdoors to learn. We’ll incorporate ideas for engaging young people in critical thinking and problem-solving in ways that are interesting, relevant to your lives, and fun.
Our trained and experienced staff will collaborate on each month’s topic. We’re lucky to have incredible instructors with a wide range of experiences, all with backgrounds in science and a passion for innovative education. Some of us are experienced teachers, both in and out of the classroom, some have worked at camps most of their lives, and still others are parents who know firsthand what it’s like to be stuck in the house during a winter storm with two children. All of us are fervent believers that the best way to learn is to do.
We invite you to be an active participant in this column by sharing ideas or asking questions about topics relating to science, adventure and fun. If there’s something you’d like to know more about – mountain ecosystems; mining history; how to track local wildlife; or anything else you can dream up – let us know. We look forward to exploring and learning with you.
Ellen Reid is the Director of Keystone Science School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.