Bison, bobcats, and bears, oh my! SPREE campers spent a week exploring the major ecosystems of Colorado and the plants animals that make them unique.
Campers started their exploration of Colorado ecosystems in the mountains where the South Platte River and many other waterways begin. Campers did some experiments to investigate what mountains are, what they are made of, learned mountain anatomy, and how they act as Colorado's "water towers!" Then, we got to explore the river to feel connected to the water from the mountains.
Next, we learned about some Colorado mountain animals! Ungulates, animals with hooves, are one of the kinds of animals that are specially adapted to living in the mountains. Our state mammal, the bighorn sheep, lives in the Rocky Mountains! Campers made some sheep marionettes and learned some cool facts about them while acting out some of their behaviors.
Today, campers learned how the rivers are connected to Colorado forests. An obvious connection is that they flow through forests! We learned many other cool facts: forests help filter and clean water, help prevent floods, and help keep the water fresh and cool with shade for the aquatic animals.
We also learned about many forest-dwelling animals! First, campers learned about some awesome forest animals- black bears! We learned about their many cool adaptations through a dress up activity, a bear foraging game, and bear "musical chairs" that was limited by resources and food that bears need.
Then, we learned about a pair of similar Colorado animals- lynx and bobcats! We studied their similarities and differences, learned about big cat hunting and survival adaptations, and practiced hunting like a lynx!
Another forest animal we learned about were Elk! We got to investigate some of their bio clues: pelt, skull, hoof, and scat, and then played a game where we had to remove our "velvet" off our arm antlers with the help of a tree!
Another cool Colorado ecosystem is a prairie! Prairies are a unique type of grassland found in North America- including Colorado.
Campers learned about unique features of prairies- including the types of plants, types of soils, types of weather and amounts of precipitation, and types of animals that live there. Campers delved into prairie plant adaptations with a dress up and drawing activity: they have skinny leaves to minimize water loss, super long roots to collect water, ability to grow back after fires, ability to grow back after being eaten by grazers, and more! Campers then went on a mini plant exploration hike to discover that Denver is actually built on prairie land!
Next, we learned about a few Colorado Prairie animals!
We played a game to learn about how all parts of the bison were used by Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes, tried to lift how much bison eat in a day (24 pounds!), and played a hunting game to reenact some Native American skills.
Another animal we learned about was a prairie dog! Campers learned how they are a keystone prairie species, and we played a game to learn how they communicate danger, "yip, yip!"
And as always, we got time to explore the river, cool off, and catch some critters.
Thursday: The City (Field Day)
Another important Colorado ecosystem that the river flows through is cities! Many plants and animals inhabit this urban landscape, even if it may not be obvious at first! Campers took a short hike along the river trail to nearby Vanderbilt park. We learned about squirrels through an animal mystery activity and a predator and prey game. Then, we explored in the tall grasses and discovered many exciting parts of nature in the city while on a scavenger hunt!
Colorado has some desert regions in it, too! With very little rain, plants and animals have many cool and unique adaptations to survive the tough conditions.
We discussed a few types of desert plants with unique adaptations, but of course we primarily focused on cactus! Campers made model cactus out of clay to see that their spines are not only a defense mechanism, but they also provide shade for the plants! Next, we got to dissect a prickly pear cactus leaf to see what they look like inside where all their water and nutrients are stored.
Jackrabbits and roadrunners were some cool desert animals that campers got to learn about! We made our own jackrabbit ears while we learned about their unique cooling system. Then, we learned some cool roadrunner facts and played a game to learn about their speed and hunting skills!
Before critter crawl, we discussed how deserts typically don't have waterways running through them and what some environmental desert dangers could be (and how to help avoid them!) Then we got to get in the creek to cool off after our "heated" discussion!
Now that the campers were Colorado ecosystem experts, we wrapped up our week with a graduation ceremony!
Campers took a peek under the River’s surface and discovered the secret lives of the plants and animals that live there. They found the crawdads, clams, and many other creatures that call our urban waterways home!
Monday: Plants and Macroinvertebrates
The mission for our SPREE campers this week was to become underwater investigators of the waterways of Denver. We started the week by looking at some underwater plants and tiny animals. The tiny animals are called aquatic macroinvertebrates. We first helped campers break down the words. Aquatic = water, Macro = big enough to see with the naked eye, Invertebrate = no backbone. The creatures we learned about throughout the week live in the water, don’t have a backbone, and can be seen without a microscope. In our waterways, we frequently see two types of macros- ones that evolve, and ones that do not. Today, we focused on macros that don't evolve. First, we learned about clams! We have some in Denver- they are filter feeders that even help filter and clean the water that they live in! We also learned about leeches and aquatic worms. They also don't evolve, but still play key roles in the river ecosystem! We played a leech game to learn about how they move and communicate in the water. Then, we got to explore in the creek and catch some of these critters and learn about them hands-on!
Next, campers learned about some different types of water plants. We learned about three types: emergent, that grow from the bottom of the water and stick out of the surface; floating, which live on top of the water's surface; and submergent, plants that live exclusively underwater. We acted out the different plant types and made a craft diorama of the different plants living in the water.
Tuesday: Macroinvertebrates that Evolve
After covering macros that don't evolve on Monday, campers got to delve into the diverse and incredible world of evolving aquatic insects! Many macros that live underwater live there for the majority of their lives, even years, before evolving to a land animals for the last short portion of their lives.
First, we learned about one of SPREE's favorite macro insects to find in the water- dragonfly nymphs! We had a camper dress up as a dragonfly nymph as we learned about their many amazing adaptations. Next, we made our own craft dragonfly!
Then, we played some games where the campers got to act out the adaptations and movement of many river macros including caddisflies, stone flies, craneflies, and mayflies! In another game, we learned how black fly larva catch their prey in the water.
When we went down to the creek to investigate the macros in the water, we learned that they all have different pollution tolerances. We got catching critters and sorted them out- and found many macros that have very low tolerance for pollution, a great sign for our waterways!
Some of the coolest critters in the creek are crawdads! SPREE educators and campers alike love these creatures so much that we dedicated an entire day to them!
Our first activity of the day focused on crawdad anatomy and adaptations. We dressed up a camper as a crawdad with antennae, pincers, extra legs, and more! Then, campers got to try and experience life with an exoskeleton firsthand with another adaptation activity.
Next, we learned about many crawdad survival skills. We played a game to discover the types of food crawdads eat. And, we played a game of crawdad hide and seek as they are experts at hiding in the water!
Then of course we went into creek to try our hand at catching crawdads! Many SPREE campers love catching these creatures and finding them in the water- they are actually quite common in Denver! We wrapped up the day with singing one of the SPREE force special agent songs about Crusher the crawdad!
Thursday: Fish and Beavers
As we neared the end of the week, we spent our last two camp days learning about even more water-dwelling creatures of Denver waterways- fish and beavers!
First, we learned about Colorado's state fish- the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. We played a trout board game to learn about trout in Colorado, and played trout tag to learn about trout predators and prey.
Next, we learned about some fish adaptations by making some fish prints, looking for small fish in the water, and playing fishy slime tag!
We wrapped up our day by playing some beaver games- "beavers and lodges" and "be the beaver."
Friday: Fabulous Fish
We were so excited to have guests from Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) to help us learn even more about Colorado fish! Their high school educators taught the campers about fish adaptations, taught them about macroinvertebrates, lead them through a fishy game, and the campers even got to practice some fishing skills! We finished up our week with one more critter crawl for the week, then wrapped it all up with a graduation ceremony for all of our expert underwater investigator campers!
This week at SPREE camp, campers followed a drop of water through the water systems of Colorado as it flowed through streams, waited in reservoirs, traveled across mountains, got cleaned in treatment plants, used in homes, and went down drains.
Monday: Where does our water come from?
All of our water in Denver comes from snow melt in the mountains! Campers started off their week at camp investigating how a watershed works through activities, building models, and conducting experiments.
Next, campers discovered how the water in our waterways in Colorado connect to others throughout the country- and even to the ocean! We analyzed maps, made our bodies into a map of some major US rivers, and then got into the creek to discover what the one of Denver's waterways looks like first hand!
We wrapped up our day by starting off our all-camp collaborative 3-D model of a waterway's journey through many different landscapes it goes through in Colorado. We started with big features like the river flowing down mountains and between buildings today!
Tuesday: How water is collected and treated for use
After the water melts off the mountain tops and trickles into streams and rivers, it is eventually collected in reservoirs to people to eventually use.
To start the day, campers played an interactive game about the water cycle as a water drop and traveled through many stations: Clouds, Plants, Animals, Rivers, Oceans, Lakes, Ground Water, Soil, and Glaciers.
Next, campers got to use an urban watershed model, called an "enviroscape," to conduct experiments on how water moves in a city and may accumulate different pollutants along the way.
Campers then investigated how Denver's water is collected in reservoirs and then cleaned for use in homes and businesses. We built our own mini reservoirs in the sand, and got to conduct an experiment to clean some water we had collected to investigate how drinking water is cleaned before use.
We wrapped up our day by continuing to work on our watershed river model!
Wednesday: Using water and returning it to the waterways
We began our day by discussing the many ways that we use water every day, both directly and indirectly. Then, we acted out and did an activity on how the water is cleaned after it is used. Did you know that 99% of wastewater that goes down our pipes is actually water? All the work in cleaning it goes into the remaining 1% that is the waste.
After use and cleaning, the water is returned back into our waterways! The outfalls at the treatment plants are actually some of the cleanest river areas. To investigate, campers got to become scientists and conduct a health check-up on the creek. They learned how to do each test, and why it is important to the health of the waterway: pH, temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. These tests are all checking on abiotic factors impacting the creek.
Next, campers got to do a check up using biotic factors. We went down to the creek and caught some macroinvertebrates and then sorted them into their different levels of pollution tolerance. We found several types of pollution-sensitive macros, showing us that the creek is in pretty good shape!
Finally, we wrapped up our day with putting the finishing touches on our river model!
Thursday: Storm Water- Field Day
Another important, but often overlooked, component of urban water systems is storm water. Without engineering, planning, and infrastructure, the city would be at great risk for frequent flooding and destruction. We got to start our day off with a special treat- a guest from public works came with a storm drain cleaner truck! We learned about the worker's important job, saw how the hoses and vacuums worked, and got a great refreshing shower from the hose!
Next, we had field day near camp and played games, searched out and investigated storm drains and outfalls, looked at some of Denver's flood control measures (like retaining walls and the park design), and caught more macroinvertebrates in the creek!
Friday: River Features
Now that campers were water system experts, we zoomed in on the creek and river to learn about some river features and anatomy.
We started by learning about one of the challenges of a waterway in a city may pose- floods! Campers studied the creek, took measurements of its depth and speed, and compared the numbers to famous floods in Denver's history.
Next, campers learned about the many features of waterway anatomy and went on an investigation hike upstream and downstream to see if they could find features like: riffles, pools, banks, and more! Then they explored the bottom of the creek to take a closer look at the rocks and silt and imagined the journey these materials have take over many years down from the mountains to get here to Denver!
The campers did an excellent job learning about water systems, engineering, and watersheds this week, and we wrapped it all up with a graduation ceremony to celebrate!
Campers joined SPREE as we looked to the River and parks for inspiration for paintings, sculptures, performances, and more. We also worked with a local Denver artist to make an awesome project together!
Monday: 2D Art
Campers started off the week with 2-dimensional art. First, we tried our hand at some photography! Campers used disposable cameras (a new skill for many!) to take photos of inspiring nature in the park for use in a project later in the week after the pictures get developed.
Next, we made two kinds of chalk to use at camp and take home! We made bright colors of wet chalk paint out of cornstarch and food coloring to make a mural on the sidewalk in front of camp. We also made chalk out of paint and plaster to take home after it dried overnight.
To wrap up our day, campers started work on an individual or group art piece. We talked about the process of making art, brainstorming ideas, and getting a start on our ideas and supply lists.
Tuesday: Paper and Tree Art
As we moved into the 3-dimensional art world, we focused on trees as our source of inspiration!
First, we each made our own unique painted hand print tree. While they dried, we used some actual tree "cookies" (slices of tree trunks) to make some ornaments.
Next, campers thought about how trees are our main source of paper, so we made our own paper out of recycled paper from camp, and we spiced it up with some plant pieces and seeds we collected from around camp. Campers all got to make a unique piece of paper art!
We wrapped up our day by continuing the process of our group art pieces. Today, we started the construction process of our pieces!
Wednesday: Field Day
For field day this week, we stuck around Johnson Habitat park while we took a closer look at the plants, animals, river, and nonliving things there for more art inspiration!
Campers went on an exploration hike, caught critters in the river and sketched pictures of what we saw, made nature sculptures, and played water games!
Thursday: Nature Art
We were very excited to welcome a local guest artist from Originateve today! Ron lead groups of campers through a project of making mini boats to float on the river, completely made of natural materials! Everyone learned new skills in knot tying, using tools, and construction!
Another craft campers made today was nature prints in plaster. First, we found items in nature and printed them in clay. Then, we poured wet plaster over the clay prints and let them dry!
Lastly, we worked in our teams to put our finishing touches on our group art projects, and got to present them to the other campers!
Friday: Written and Performance Art
To wrap up our week, we shifted our focus to written and performance art that is inspired by nature.
First, we finished up our project that we started on Monday by using the photos we took to create a collage.
Then, we worked on our art and acting skills by creating paper bag puppets, writing a skit, and putting on a show!
Next, campers went down to the river to catch some more critters, but not before writing some poetry inspired by the river and park!
Finally, we wrapped up our art week by having a graduation ceremony!
Campers delved into early Colorado’s past as we reenacted the lives of settlers, pioneers, and prospectors.
Monday: Mountain Men and Women
Campers kicked off the week learning about Colorado before it became a state, and, about some of the people who came West to explore it in the early 1800s. These mountain men and women were typically fur trappers and explorers. Many have Colorado landmarks named after them, like Pike's Peak for Zebulon Pike! After learning some facts and history of some of these historic figures, campers then reenacted some of their lives through making journals to record notes and discoveries in, as well as making some explorer vests! Then, we made a DIY compass to help us explore, and went on a scavenger hunt to learn about some of the important things that these explorers used day to day, or were looking for in their travels- like a beaver pelt and feather pens. We wrapped up the day "fishing" in the river as some of these mountain mountain men and women would have, too!
Tuesday: Heading West
After the mountain explorers arrived, eventually more and more explorers, prospectors, and pioneers started heading west and stopping in Colorado. Many were looking for land, gold, and a new life! But traveling in the 1800s wasn't easy! Campers reenacted the journey to Colorado by packing up mini wagons with supplies, acting out some dangers along the way (like fording a river or trying to repair a broken wagon wheel), and needing to find food and water along the way. Next, we investigated the first chartered town in what is now Colorado- Montana City! Montana city was built in 1858 along the South Platte near where Grant Frontier park sits today. The residents settled here to look for gold in the river, but quickly realized there was not as much around as they had expected. The residents actually decided to disband and relocate 9 miles downstream (near modern- day confluence park) as part of another existing town, while bringing their homes with them! Campers brainstormed how they accomplished this, then acted out what they did- floating the logs of their homes down the river, and rebuilding with them at the new site! Next, campers reenacted the flood of the Cherry Creek in 1864. The little towns at the confluence were hit hard, but decided to rebuild! Thanks to these resilient settlers, little Denver City eventually grew into the modern Denver that we know today!
Wednesday: Pioneer Life
As we continued to learn about the lives of Colorado pioneers and prospectors, today, campers focused on how they lived day to day. We acted out the gold rush through a game, and discovered that despite the optimistic reports, there was actually not much gold to find in Colorado rivers. Next, we acted out some pioneer chores and skills! Campers learned the basics of washing laundry in the river, made some tin art, gathered water with buckets, and even practiced some cattle roping! Campers also got to get into the water to actually practice gold panning just like the early prospectors did! SPREE also had a guest speaker from History Colorado Center to teach us about the lives of many different early Colorado residents and explorers. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot!
Thursday: Pioneer Games (Field Day)
After becoming experts over the week in how hard life was for these early Colorado pioneers, we dedicated a day to learning about some of the fun they had! We changed our schedule up a bit and had a field day in Johnson Habitat park. We played some traditional games that many of us still know today, like a potato sack race and three-legged race. And we played a few more pioneer games like, "ducks fly," "drop the handkerchief," "poor doggie," and practiced hoop rolling!
Friday: Gold Mining
Once the initial gold rush died down a bit and prospectors realized that there was not much gold to be found in Colorado's waterways, they decided to look for it right at the source- in the mountains! On Friday, campers learned about the early Coloradan gold miners. First, we played a game to act out some of the dangers that miners faced. They did get some gold out of the mines, but not before facing dangers like gas leaks, floods, collapsing tunnels, and unreliable DIY dynamite! Next, we learned about the tricky process of getting the gold out of the mined rocks. It wasn't as easy as finding a nugget in the riverbed! Then, we made our own gold holding pouches to take home some treasures of our own in! Finally, we wrapped up our Colorado Frontier week with a graduation ceremony to celebrate all of the campers becoming history experts over the week!
Ever wonder what it takes to care for a park in the city? This week, campers discovered what it takes to become a steward of the South Platte River by learning about native plants and animals, doing a service project, and educating others about the River.
Monday: Rangers Know their Park
Campers kicked off the week the best way SPREE could think of- with learning about scat of course! We studied scat (rubber replicas, not real thankfully!) and tracks of some animals that could be found in the park. We also played a track/animal matching memory game to learn some animal tracks from around the world.
After learning about these "bio clues," our next thing to investigate was plants. We learned to identify many of the native plants found in and around the park, used some plant guide books, and made some plant rubbings from around the park. We then got to plant some native wildflower seeds of our own!
Now that campers had learned about plants and land animals of the park, it was time to investigate what lives in the water! We did our first critter crawl of the week- we waded in the creek and caught some crawdads and macroinvertebrates!
Tuesday: Rangers Educate Others (Field Day)
Our field day is usually later in the week, but we moved it up this week for a special treat! Campers and staff did a service project with a park worker from Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR). We learned a little more about how and why people take care of parks, and then did a trash sweep in Confluence park. After the service project, we cooled down with some water games and had some fun in the park.
Wednesday: Rangers are Prepared
Today we focused on being prepared for spending lots of time outdoors like rangers do! We made some mini first aid kits to take with us on a trek, learned how sundials work and made one of our own, and got back into the creek to cool off and catch some more critters!
Thursday: Rangers at Work and Play!
As we had been learning throughout the week so far, one problem that park rangers regularly face (and work to help solve!) is trash in parks. Campers learned about trash facts (did you know it can take 200 years for an aluminum can to break down?) and learned what can and can't be recycled at camp- and why! Learning about trash can be fun... but campers had another even more fun activity as part of their day- rafting! The Cherry Creek dam was raised to temporarily fill up the creek with enough water for our small raft to float on. After gearing up and going over rules, the campers had a blast paddling on the creek together.
Friday: Rangers make Impacts
After a week of becoming park ranger experts, campers wrapped up the week by becoming junior park rangers! We made our own paper ranger vests, did a final critter crawl of the week, and also made some bird feeders to hang up at home. Lastly, the campers all took part in a graduation ceremony to finish off the week, and each camper got a state parks passport to take home!