Connections, discoveries made atop the mountain |

Connections, discoveries made atop the mountain

Scott Roulston
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyEdwards Elementary students Miguel Fierro 10yrs, left and Anya Martinez 10yrs, get up close and personal to stuffed Black Bear Thursday during a field trip to the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle's Nest on Vail Mountain. The trip was a reward to the students for meeting their reading goals.

VAIL MOUNTAIN – The kids visiting the Nature Discovery Center often find a humorous connection to the environment inside the ‘scat drawer.’ They take particular interest in the replicas of animal feces, said Matt Turnbull, one of the naturalist working for the center.Whether teaching about scatological evidence or not, the staff at the Discovery Center try to teach visitors more about the surrounding Rocky Mountains.Located atop Vail Mountain at Adventure Ridge and open year-round, the center – a program of Red Cliff’s Gore Range Natural Science School – provides one- to two-hour nature hikes that traverse the sub-alpine region of the mountain.

The naturalists guiding the tours talk about the natural history of the mountain, winter ecology and how animals adapt to winter.Turnbull, who has a degree in history from the University of Michigan, said he talks a lot about the environmental history of the mountain on hikes he leads. We didn’t kill the bear

The center’s most frequent visitors are ski school classes. “Kids are really enthusiastic,” Turnbull said. “They just love exploring this place.” Inside the center are educational exhibits that feature the mountain habitat and wildlife, as well as taxidermy mounts of the animals living in the area. The center’s naturalists can answer questions about the exhibits, and are there to help orient people to the ecological area, said Stephanie Sutton, the interpretive programs coordinator.”Kids have asked why we killed the bear,” said Turnbull of the black bear on display in the center. He tells the kids that the Discovery Center didn’t kill the bear.Kids come into the center often as a part of the SKE-Cology program, which is a collaborative effort between Vail Ski School, the Discovery Center and the U.S. Forest Service focused on teaching kids skiing fundamentals and mountain ecology.

Ski school instructors take their classes to spots on the mountain marked with signs with information about plants and animals. Promoting environmental stewardshipSutton also leads snowshoe hikes on the mountain and supervises novice naturalists. Seeing the naturalists develop into “environmental stewards” brings Sutton great satisfaction, she said.

“The Discovery Center is a vital component in the Gore Range Natural Science School’s effort to educate youth and adults about the role each of us plays in fostering mountain stewardship,” Sutton said. “We need this place to help keep us connected to the reasons we love living here.”The center’s naturalists are clearly enthusiastic about reaching out and teaching people about the environment. “I really enjoy helping people make connections with the surrounding environment,” said Mona Johnston, one of the naturalists.In the future, Sutton said, she hopes to expand the Discovery Center, improve the exhibits, and broaden its audience.==========================================

Outdoor adventures Snowshoe nature tours provided by the Discovery Center take place at 3 p.m. Tours are free but donations are accepted. Reservations are not required. For more information call 479-4675.==========================================Honor roll

Lauded for its environmental education programs, the Nature Discovery Center was presented with the 2004 Environmental Business Award in November by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.The Discovery Center is a joint partnership between Vail Resorts, the U.S. Forest Service and the Gore Range School. Stephanie Sutton, who joined the program last May, is the interpretive programs coordinator. Sutton makes sure the partners are working together.”Together, the organizations form a blanket mission to inspire stewardship,” said Sutton. “It is a unique partnership – there is not another discovery center on the other ski mountains.”Vail, Colorado

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