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, mountain anatomy, and how they act as Colorado's "water towers!" Then, we got to explore the creek 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.
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 comunnicate danger, "yip, yip!"
And as always, we got time to explore the creek, cool off, and catch some critters.
Thursday: The City (Field Day)
Another important Colorado ecosystem that the river and creek flow 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 Commons 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!
After a picnic lunch in the park, we headed back towards camp on the trail with a stop in Confluence park to play water games and search for crawdads in the river. We caught many big crawdads and learned some cool facts about them!
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!
Summer campers had a great time learning about many Colorado "Creepy Creatures" over the week of June 10-14! Whether you love creepy creatures or they give you the heebie-jeebies, these critters are a part of Colorado! Campers joined us for a week of learning about animals like spiders, bats, and snakes while we learned facts, dispelled myths, and found that they may be cool creatures after all!
Monday: Slimy Scaries
We kicked off the week with learning about some creatures that may be slimy and scary! But we discovered that not all of these creatures were slimy after all! Campers started by becoming Colorado snake experts. We learned about the many snakes that call Colorado home, analyzed shedded snake skin and talked about its importance to snakes, played some snake games, and even got to meet one of the River Ranger's pet ball python that she brought in to say hello (and she wasn't slimy at all!).
The next animals we learned about really were slimy! Leeches and worms are common in Colorado waterways and underground. We learned about some cool adaptations that these animal cousins have, discovered how they are both important in their ecosystems, and got to go into the River to try and catch some! (Leeches and aquatic worms can both be found in the South Platte!)
Week 1 of SPREE summer camp started off with a fun theme of "Special Agent Training!" Kids at both camps spent the week of June 3-7 learning how to care for the River and environment, defeat some SPREE villians, and how to catch some crawdads in the River and Creek!
Monday: What is a Special Agent?
Campers received a mission from Chompers, head of the SPREE Force, to learn to become special agents during camp this week, as well as learn some facts about water in Denver to get an idea of what challenges they may face over the week. Campers started by thinking about all the different ways they use water every day. There are more direct and indirect uses than you might think of at first! We also talked about the many different ways people in Denver need and use water- in homes, businesses, farms, factories, etc. We acted out how it can be challenging to share this limited resource, and discussed ideas on how to make it work. Next, campers learned that this water actually comes from the River right next to camp- the South Platte! We learned that the River starts in the mountains, and the water in it actually runs all the way to the Ocean!
For our special agent skills course of the day, we got to get introduced to the many Agents of the SPREE Force and learn about the special skills they each have. Then, we practiced some skills of our own through activities and games. We made disguises, practiced getting to know each other and being a good teammate, and honed our observation skills.
Finally, it was everyone's favorite part of the day- critter crawl! We learned about what critters can be found in the River and Creek, how they indicate water quality, and we got to get in the water to catch some! We were challenged by Crusher the crawdad- and right hand man of Chompers, to each catch and hold a crawdad this week!
We all wrapped up the day with the start of our Special Agent Code of Conduct list that we added to throughout the week as we learned more and more!
Tuesday's focus was on aquatic (or semi-aquatic) creatures. The state fish is the greenback cutthroat trout, which was once thought to be extinct in our state! It was later rediscovered and then made Colorado's state fish. Campers learned about trout habitat, and explored the River for signs that trout could live there. The state amphibian is the tiger salamander- it is found in all of Colorado's counties! We played games to help us learn about their metamorphic life cycle and how they can regrow their tails if it gets nibbled off by a predator! We also learned about their porous and slimy skin by making our own slime! The state reptile is also semi-aquatic, the painted turtle. Campers explored what it means to be cold blooded, learned the differences between terrestrial and aquatic turtles, and crafted little mini turtles to take home.
For our field day on Thursday, we went to nearby Vanderbilt park. We explored the pond and park, identified native plants and animals, and played lots of games about native Colorado animals!
Our week wrapped up with Colorado rocks and fossils. After learning the differences between rocks, minerals and gemstones, we could learn which ones are Colorado state symbols: yule marble, rhodochrosite, and aquamarine respectively. Campers learned how these rocks form, played rock bingo in the park, and made their own rock "friend" to take home. Finally, we made it to learning about our state fossil, the stegosaurus! We used silhouettes to make a skeleton, studied the natural history of Colorado dinsosaurs, and learned about dino adaptations. As always, we finished our week with a graduation ceremony!
Summer campers at the Cherry Creek Train had a fantastic week getting "inspired by nature!" On Monday, all of our nature art projects were about color. First, we made natural dyes and painted pictures with them. One set was made with plants and spices like turmeric, blueberries, and strawberries! Another we made with mud and food coloring! Another color project we worked on was swirled colors made from household objects. We made one picture with swirled colors made of vegetable oil and food coloring. Another was made with shaving cream! We wrapped up our colorful day with tie dye!
Campers enjoyed another great guest artist on Wednesday! Paul from Originateve came and worked with campers to make homemade felt from sheeps wool! Our other projects of the day were focused on making art outside and art with found materials. We made animal sculptures with items from nature, and rock mandalas near the river.
Thursday was field trip day! We trekked to the Denver Art Museum and saw many awesome pieces of art that were inspired by nature! Campers especially enjoyed making art at the many creation stations throughout the museum.
Campers brought art to life on Friday with movement and performance! We made puppets, put on a puppet show, and we made our own musical instruments! Then, we celebrated our wonderful week with a graduation ceremony!
SPREE summer campers this week became water experts during Water Engineers camp! We started by learning more about what an engineer does, and what the engineering process looks like. We did an activity to figure out the typical order of the engineering steps:
1. Identify the Problem (What do we need to do? What is our goal?)
2. Brainstorm (the most important step!)3. Design (blueprint)
4. Build (may be a model/prototype at first)
5. Test and Evaluate (Then may need to go back to step 4, until it is perfect and safe and ready-to-go! Or even go back to steps 2-3)
6. Share the Solution
Monday's focus was on many different forms of River engineering. One activity was on bridges. We learned about many types of bridges and how they work. Then, we constructed our own mini river bridges with limited materials and tested them out with different weights on top. Another river engineering feat we learned about and modeled was locks and dams. We learned about how they work, made some models, and tested them with some mini boats we built!
On Wednesday, campers learned about a different aspect of water engineering- water quality! First, we experimented with our enviroscape. An enviroscape is a model of a city that shows how pollution and runoff in cities and rural areas get into and affect waterways. Then, we made a model water filtration system using rocks, dirt, sand, and other natural materials. While not safe to drink because it was just filtered and not sanitized, we got some very cool and successful results! During our daily critter crawl, we learned more about water quality through the animals that live in the River. Did you know that different macroinvertebrates have different tolerances to pollution levels? We caught many critters and sorted them into their water-quality indicator groups. The South Platte River is home to many pollution sensitive groups! Another cool thing that campers got to do on Wednesday was work with a guest educator, who worked with them to do a scientific check up on the River. Campers did different chemical tests that help us see the health of the waterway and learned more about water quality in Denver.
Our field day took place on Thursday. The campers walked to nearby Vanderbilt Park to investigate and play! We played lots of games to beat the heat and looked for critters in River.
Friday's focus was on the "Clean River Design Challenge." Campers were tasked with putting all of their gained water engineering skills and knowlege to the test to build miniature trash removal devices for the South Platte River. This was inspired by a competition that The Greenway Foundation hosts annualy, in which college students from several Colorado universities compete to design, build, and ultimately implement their in-stream trash removal devices. Campers were thrilled to have the CRDC event coordinator as well as a member from 2018's winning team as guest speakers for the day. They brought several models from the competition with that served as inspiration for campers' designs. And, one of Greenway's board members, Sarah Dominick, who works with Denver Water, came to share her expertise with the campers as well as help build and evaluate the campers' designs!
Campers did a great job learning about and experimenting with many different aspects of water engineering this week! We wrapped up our day and week with a graduation ceremony to celebrate.
On Tuesday, the focus was on how people in Colorado use and utilize the river as a resource. We played games about irrigation, explored native and non-native plants, dug miniature reserviors, and built our own model water-treatment plants.
Field Day was on Wednesday! We went on a mini field trip to Larimer Square with our special guest, Lauren from The Greenway Foundation. She showed us a new installation of a storm water filtration device that was recently installed by The Greenway Foundation! We learned that all stormwater in Denver, regarless of what trash, debris, or even chemicals it picks up, flows into storm drains and right into waterways like the Cherry Creek without any treatment or filtration. This new storm drain helps catch trash and even chemicals and oils and prevents them from getting into Denver's waterways. We saw that the device was working when Lauren opened it up and we got to peek at all the trash inside!
Thursday and Friday were dedicated to the animals of the South Platte in Denver. On Thursday, we focused on the larger, vertebrate river dwellers. Campers acted out the lives and skills of beavers, made prints with native fish, and learned about Colorado's state fish- the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.
SPREE campers and families had a blast at the 5th annual SPREE Summer Campout in Johnson Habitat park this park weekend! Eight adventurous families enjoyed cooking dinner outside, exploring in the River, and sleeping under the stars!
After all that activity, we had worked up quite and appetite! For dinner, we made "pudgie pies in the campfire! And no campout would be complete without s'mores!
Thanks to all those who came out! Hope to see you all again year for another fantatstic event!
This week at SPREE HQ, campers delved into local ecosystems and explored the food webs of the parks and waterways of Denver. We started off with the basics: learning what all living things need to survive. All living things need: air, water, soil/food, and sunshine! We planted our own little bean seeds to see if this would prove true (and they did grow during the week!). We also learned about another very important aspect of food chains on Monday as well, "FBIs!" Fungus, Bacteria, Insects, and Scavengers are very important to food webs and ecosystems because they help balance everything out. They help to break down things that are dead, and make new resources for the other living things to survive. And, we learned that even though we can't see it, bacteria are everywhere! We collected some samples from around camp, and grew some little bacteria colonies in agar plates over the week! To wrap up our day, we played a fun tag game outside where everyone got to play a role in the food web!
On Tuesday, we took our knowledge about food webs and applied to our own park. We learned to identify some plants around camp, acted out predator and prey relationships of local animals, and explored the river and how it connects to the park food web. Then, we started our project of making ecosystem dioramas.
We switched our focus to the river food web on Wednesday. We learned about different types of aquatic plants that live in the water, discovered the crazy adapations of some aquatic macroinvertebrates, and made some craft dragonflies. Then, we caught some critters in the river and sorted them by where they sit in the food web.
Thursday was field day! We walked to nearby Commons park to explore the food webs of plants, animals, and the pond there. We did scavenger hunts, played games, and looked for signs of animals that live in the park that we couldn't see.
The week wrapped up with a day themed around ecosystem engineers and keystone species. We did activities about how different animals big and small such as wolves, bees, and beavers have huge impacts on the food webs and ecosystems that they live in.
Then, as always, we wrapped up the week with a graduation ceremony for all the campers!
Tuesday, we focused on the principles of Leave No Trace. All day, whether we were on land or in the water, campers thought of ways that we can enjoy the environment without negatively impacting the plants, animals, and other park users. Through fun games & looking for critters in the River we made sure to take extra care to leave no trace!
We switched gears on Wednesday, getting campers down on the ground to further explore how our environment can help us stay safe while adventuring in the outdoors. The day included learning about Colorado animals and making guide books. Afterwords campers worked on gaining knowledge of forged foods in the state and finding critters during Critter Crawl.
Thursday was the perfect day for water activities at nearby Overland Pond Park. One of the best ways to stay safe in your environment, is to stay hydrated and cooled down. For some campers, today was their first time rafting and even for the experienced paddlers, the highlight of their day! We also had a special guest, from Denver Parks and Recreation, came into teach us about all of the cool animals we can find in our park! Other activities included critter crawl and making miniature shelters.
By Friday, campers and staff alike, were raring to get outdoors and use their newly specialized skills! There was still one especially relevant topic to cover- fire! This fire season has been a vibrant one, and there was no lack of discussion with campers about this fascinating but dangerous phenomenon. Campers learned about the Fire Triangle- oxygen, heat & fuel- the three ingredients that all fires need! They also learned some "camping hacks" like making a lantern for the times when fire bans are in effect, or how to use the sun to tell time! We celebrated the end of our week with a graduation ceremony before the campers headed home.