Last Saturday, SPREE staff engaged over 200 kids from 100 families in our first ever curbside pickup event!
Ahead of the event, our staff prepared packs of nature art activities for families all over the Denver area. After being away from kiddos the last few months, seeing families (from afar) was certainly a highlight for us!
It’s been wonderful to see the creations everyone has made. While we hope to return to our typical Art on the River format next year, we want to thank everyone who made our first curbside pickup even a huge success!
As we celebrate our two week long #VirtualStewardshipDay, do you know who else is a steward of pollination (Hint...Hint...they are known to be pollinators)? HONEY BEES or more specific, Honey Worker Bees! These little insects can be found near any bright-colored plants. Their job is to collect nectar and pollen from flowers. They gather pollen and place on their hind legs. This collection is called a pollen basket or the scientific term corbicula.
As they forage from flower to flower, pollen is deposited onto the new flower, allowing that flower to reproduce. Not only does the worker bees depend on the flowers, but the flowers also depend on them! Without working honey bees, there would not be as many diverse flowers.
To help support #VirtualStewardshipDay, you can plant flowers such as Phlox, Mint, Sage, or Lavender. One of the regions with the most plant diversity is along the river corridor. Head down to the South Platte and see if you can find any honey bees there!
Did you know that there are more dogs in Denver than kids? There are approximately 161,000 dogs in Denver and more than 1.4 million statewide! With each dog producing around 12 ounces of waste a day, that’s 274 pounds of waste per dog a year in Dever. We all love our furry friends but one of the biggest pollutants in our parks and neighborhoods is dog waste. Usually, people are responsible and pick up after their dogs, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. It might not seem like a river pollutant, but animal waste can add up to big problems for water quality, and even human health. Animal waste contains two main types of pollutants that harm local waters: nutrients and pathogens. When this waste ends up in water bodies, it decomposes, releasing nutrients that cause excessive growth of algae and weeds. This excessive growth causes low oxygen levels in the water that can kill fish and other aquatic life. It also makes the water murky, green, smelly, and even unusable for swimming, boating, or fishing. The pathogens, disease causing bacteria and viruses, can also make local waters unswimmable and unfishable, and have caused severe illness in humans. Pathogens can be spread to other pets and humans including: salmonella, giardia, parvovirus, and others. Denver Park and Recreation have a series of Park Rules and Regulations. The first two rules listed are:
So how can WE help?? We can create a craft for the whole family to enjoy, homemade animal waste bag containers! The idea is that if we leave bags for other people, it will give them the resources they need to clean up after their pet. How do we create these containers? It’s easy!
Step 2: Make four zip tie or string holes on the opposite side of the bottle from the cut-out, two at the top corners and two at the bottom corners
Step 3: Insert zip tie or string into one hole. Repeat with the second zip tie/string holder.
Step 4: Place a note about how the community poop bag share station works on the poop bag dispenser and cover with clear packing tape
Step 5: Fasten your poop bag dispenser to an *approved place* in your neighborhood or park!
Short Answer: Yes it can. Keep reading for the longer answer below.
What comes to mind when you think of the Census? Is it nuisance paperwork? Is it a demographic headcount that determines how your local congressional district is redrawn? Does it provide funding on a per person basis for health services, education programs, and new roads? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are correct! But there is so much more to this once-a-decade event.
Federal and state entities use census data every year to inform funding decisions for numerous programs. In fact, 132 federal programs used data from the Census Bureau to distribute more than $675 billion in 2015 (Hotchkiss and Phelan, 2017). Non-profit programs, such as The Water Connection, can apply for these federal funds to complete projects on the local level.
Some of the programs that received a portion of this large sum in 2015 include:
In 2019, $1.91 billion was allocated to just the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program (Lee and Brumfield, 2019). This loan and grant program funds a variety of water related projects: safe drinking water systems, sanitary disposal of sewage and solid waste, and efficient stormwater drainage for both residential and commercial properties (USDA 2015).
All 8 of the programs above focus on water in some form or fashion. However, there are numerous other programs that focus on nature and the environment as well, such as the Hazardous Waste Management State Program Support or the Wildlife Restoration Program (America Counts Staff, 2020).
There is no way of knowing exactly how much funding Colorado programs will receive in future years. We do know that it will be much less than it could have been if people in our community fail to complete and submit their Census 2020 Questionnaire.
So if you are looking for a way to help out your local community and waterways from home, start by filling out your census today! You can now submit your information online: Click here for the 2020 Census Questionnaire.
Lauren Berent, Associate Director of The Water Connection
America Counts Staff. (2020, February 27). “2020 Census Will Inform Funding for Environmental Programs. Including Mass Transit”. Census Can Help Cities Go Green. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/02/census-can-help-cities-go-green.html
Hotchkiss, Marisa and Jessica Phelan. (Issued September 2017). “Uses of Census Bureau Date in Federal Funds Distribution: A New Design for the 21st Century”. Version 1.0. Retrieved from: https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/program-management/working-papers/Uses-of-Census-Bureau-Data-in-Federal-Funds-Distribution.pdf
Lee, Jae June and Cara Brumfield. (November 2019). “The 2020 Census & the Environment: How Census Data are used for Environmental Justice & Climate Action”. Factsheet. Retrieved from: https://www.georgetownpoverty.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/GCPI-ESOI-Census-Environment-20191106.pdf
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development. (2015, January 13) Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program. Retrieved from: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/water-waste-disposal-loan-grant-program
Beavers (like SPREE’s mascot, Chompers!) are cute, funky looking creatures that have inspired human curiosity for centuries, but did you know that they play an essential role in our river ecosystems?
Beavers are considered a “keystone species,” meaning that their presence has a huge impact on the plants and animals around them. Beavers cut down trees near rivers to build large mud-and-stick-structures called dams; these “eco-engineers” cause all sorts of changes to their environment that support and sustain amazing biodiversity.
By blocking river flow, a beaver’s dam can create ponds or deeper channels of water. Many fish, like Colorado’s Greenback Cutthroat Trout, thrive in the cooler, deeper water created by beaver dams. Slower water flow also provides habitats for aquatic insects (like the caddisfly!), as well as safe spaces for creatures like frogs and turtles to have their babies
A beaver dam
In the dry American West, beaver dams create flooding that contributes to important wetlands. The moist and nutrient-rich soil along wetter river banks and riparian zones allows plants like the Cottonwood tree to thrive. More wetland plants means more habitats and food for birds and other animals!
Scientists have shown that humans benefit from beavers too! According to NPR, “beaver dams improve water quality, trap and store carbon — and in the aggregate could be a significant way of storing groundwater in dry climates.”
Many species (including humans!) rely on beaver-created habitats to survive and thrive; in fact, nearly half of our endangered species depend either partly or entirely on the influence of beavers on their wetland ecosystem. But one of our favorite things about beavers? We have them right here along the South Platte!
A beaver enjoying Confluence Park in Denver, CO
Next time you’re out in one of our parks, be sure to look out for signs of these awesome animals -- and if you are lucky enough to spot one, say thanks!
After a long winter break, our River Ranger interns from KIPP Denver Collegiate High School finally got back to teaching days! They joined the SPREE team’s excursion training at Overland Pond Park and met the new educators! The river ranger team started the day off playing a new game, set goals for themselves, and worked on some professional development. The interns were paired up with one another to plan how to partner teach one of the four lessons in our 5th grade excursion curriculum. The subjects they teach range from beavers, boating and water safety, pollution in our South Platte River, how to test the health of our river, and how to find critters in Overland Pond.
The Water Connection (TWC) is excited to announce the pilot of an instream trash removal device-- the Nautilus! This half-scale prototype will passively collect trash along the north side of the Cherry Creek between Blake Street and Market Street. Nautilus is being serviced regularly by Mile High Flood District and ArborForce to collect valuable information regarding the device’s function and what types of debris are being collected. Other partners for this pilot include ClayDean Electric, who built this version of Nautilus, as well as Denver Parks and Recreation and Naranjo Civil Constructors.
“Like many urban areas, keeping trash out of our waterways in Denver has been a constant challenge” said Devon Buckels, Director of The Water Connection. “Every year, local non-governmental organizations and the Mile High Flood District spend $1.5 million removing trash from the South Platte River by hand, one piece at a time. There has to be a better solution. This is 2020!”
The concept for the Nautilus design was created by two students at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Mara Maxwell and TJ DiTallo, as part of TWC’s Clean River Design Challenge (CRDC) held during the 2015-2016 academic year. CRDC is a yearlong competition that challenges teams of undergraduate students to design and build a scale model of a device to be placed in a waterway in Metro Denver to remove trash and debris. Along with being efficient and effective, these devices also have to meet numerous other criteria: they must not negatively impact the flood plain, they must be safe for recreational users and wildlife, and they must have an educational and/or art aspect to the design to engage passersby in the community.
Trash in our waterways is not only an eyesore, but it can also harm wildlife and degrade water quality. TWC is also pursuing other trash capture approaches, such as storm drain filtration devices, for collecting trash before it enters our rivers and streams. The 15 storm drain filters in Metro Denver collected 3,960 pounds of pollutants in less than two years.
Next time you are biking or hiking the Cherry Creek path, stop by to visit the Nautilus!
To learn more about this project, email the Director of The Water Connection, Devon Buckels at email@example.com
It is almost time to uncover our gardens from last year to prepare for spring and summer bounty. Sometimes though we can’t do it on our own. Often, it is our FBIs that help break down old plant material to prepare for the new. We aren’t talking about law enforcement though… SPREE FBIs are decomposers and are also known as Fungi, Bacteria, Insects and Scavengers. These are the FBIs we learned about on Monday’s holiday camp.
We started our first activity by planning a pizza- each camper added their favorite topping to our pizza. At the end, we realized that we forgot one FBIs topping- mushrooms. Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom along with other familiar organisms like lichen and yeast. We continued learning about fungi with some yeast experiments, mushroom art, and mushroom dissection!
Bacteria is a harder FBIs to study because the organisms are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. So we used UV lights to study some camp surfaces. While the UV did not illuminate just bacteria, it did give us an idea of how “dirty” some surfaces were- and the dirtier the surface, the likelihood of both good and bad bacteria is high! We did some experiments comparing cleaning supplies- we cleaned a camp mat using antibacterial wipes, vinegar, and soap & water to determine the best way to keep surfaces clean for the long term is soap and water.
We jumped into insects during our critter crawl. This jumping did not include jumping into the water- as we did our critter crawl on land due to cold weather. Teachers used a tool called a kick net to scoop macroinvertebrates from the River and bring them onto land where campers could sort and count the macros by whether they were a decomposer or not. Though crawdads aren’t insects, they are scavengers and we caught several along with some scuds, water boatmen, and mayflies.
We wrapped up the day with a group activity about scavengers. Scavengers are animals from many different families that all have one thing in common- they eat dead things! Some examples of scavengers are eagles, vultures, crawdads, and coyotes. We focused on our birds of prey scavengers, and created our own balancing scavenger birds. Campers were then challenged to balance their birds while walking through an obstacle course. We were impressed with all the different birds that were created- and the balance of their handlers!
Despite the cold weather, we had a great time learning and playing during SPREE’s FBIs holiday camp. We look forward to seeing you again down by the River!
We were happy to see all our campers navigated their way to SPREE HQ last Friday for camp! Some campers admitted they used GPS devices to navigate to camp while others said they knew the way without any help. By the end of the day, all campers were more confident in their ability to read and use navigation tools like maps & compasses.
Our first activity we focused on an old tool of navigation- the compass! Compass tools have sophisticated over the centuries, but they all work because of the magnetic pull at the earth's poles. We experimented using a compass, practiced cardinal directions though a game of Compasball, and even attempted to make our own compasses using water, leaves & a sewing needle!
Our second activity was about reading and making maps. We first compared maps to determine the most important features that all maps should have: title, compass rose, scale, & a key. We found our South Platte River on a map of Colorado and traced it from its beginnings west of SPREE HQ, through its journey in and out of Colorado. We wrapped up this activity by making our own maps of SPREE HQ where we learned how maps of the same place can vary based on cartographer.
Though it was a little chilly, we still did critter crawl for our third activity. A favorite activity by both campers and teachers, we modified our critter hunt to keep our feet DRY! Teachers used a kick net to scoop macroinvertebrates from the River, and then carried them to land where campers could easily sort the critters without needing to get into the water. We found 8 crawdads despite the frigid water!
We wrapped up Mapping Our Way with a group introduction to geocaching. SPREE created a geocache that will be placed when the ground thaws. We used tablets to investigate other geocaches in the area, and found that our created SPREE geocache would be the only one at Johnson Habitat Park! We then played a game reviewing cardinal directions that also challenged campers to solve riddles.
What a fun day at SPREE HQ. We look forward to seeing you again down by the River!
Parthenogenesis is a reproductive strategy that allows reproduction without fertilization - in short, it allows members of a species to reproduce without a partner! Below are a few of these magnificent critters to celebrate this Valentine’s Day:
First discovered in Europe, this cousin to the Rusty Crayfish found in the South Platte River was the first crustacean detected to reproduce asexually. Researchers believe this species of crayfish, also known as the marmorkreb, to be entirely female. Scientists believe this species is only about 25 years old and resulted from a genetic mutation when two Slough Crayfish mated.
Another all-female cohort is the Whiptail Lizard. Whiptails can be found in the Southwest United States, Mexico, and South America. The only know unisexual reptile, whiptails evolved from hybrids of other species of lizards. To maintain genetic diversity within the species, they begin their reproductive process with twice the number of chromosomes as their sexually reproducing relatives!
Goblin Spider - Triaeris Stenaspis
This subspecies of Goblin Spider (aka Oonopidae) is thought to be parthenogenetic, as no males of the species has ever been found. This particular Goblin Spider resides in tropical & subtropical areas all over the world. Though unconfirmed that it is entirely parthenogenetic, it has proven able to reproduce asexually under lab conditions.