Gypsum Creek Middle School students partner with Vail and Walking Mountains to restore Gore Creek | VailDaily.com

Gypsum Creek Middle School students partner with Vail and Walking Mountains to restore Gore Creek

VAIL — The crystal-clear waters of Gore Creek on the surface look to support a picture-perfect, healthy ecosystem. Sadly, that's not actually the case, but a group of seventh-graders at Gypsum Creek Middle School intend to help restore the creek to the picture of health it once was.

Gypsum Creek science, technology, engineering and mathematics students partnered with the town of Vail and Walking Mountains Science Center for a second year to do a service-learning project based on helping with the health of Gore Creek.

Along with a day in the field learning about the chemistry and biology of the creek, the students also helped harvest lodgepole pine seeds to be shipped to Fort Collins. There, the U.S. Forest Service will grow the seeds for two years before shipping the saplings back to Vail in the spring of 2019 to be planted along Gore Creek.

To help the success of the saplings, the town of Vail hired an arborist to collect pinecones from an old pine to ensure the gene pool would be stronger. Those seeds were cooked in an oven, since temperatures have to hit 170 degrees or hotter to open the pinecones, and the students were in charge of plucking the seeds from the cones.

Gypsum Creek student Mackenzie Vroman said harvesting the seeds from the open pinecones was her favorite part.

"It's fun to look at things really small and try and open things and dissect them," she said.

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She also said she's going to try to be more environmentally responsible and encourage others to do the same.

Impaired waterway

Gypsum Creek STEM teacher Katie Lunde said planting the trees along the creek would be a great opportunity for the kids to learn about watersheds and do some good at the same time.

"Since water quality is a global issue, we thought we'd help in our own community to try to improve water quality along Gore Creek," Lunde said.

Listed as an impaired waterway by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Gore Creek also is not meeting the Environmental Protection Agency's standards under the Clean Water Act. This is why Lunde said it's the perfect time to help.

She said since the first service-learning day last year, the number of invertebrates in the creek has increased, which will inspire the kids to help further.

"Being a part of that is really an awesome experience for the kids," Lunde said.

The students will also create a PowerPoint presentation for the Lexus Eco Challenge for STEM students. Lunde said last year, the students earned $7,000 in scholarships and $2,000 for the school through the Eco Challenge.

Peter Wadden, watershed education coordinator with the town of Vail, said the experience for the kids is twofold.

"To have them do something valuable for the creek, but (also) have them understand why they are doing it," Wadden said.

Passing the message

The students will take what they learned in a day and hopefully apply it down the road and pass it on to others to help.

"There's only so much you can do with a group of seventh-graders in a day, but we can give them something that allows them to have an impact," Wadden said. "The important thing is not to put them to work without context. They need to understand why what they are doing is important and how it contributes to the larger effort."

Gypsum Creek student Nikolos Clark said he had never really thought about water beyond it flowing down the stream. Now he knows it isn't always clean, despite what it looks like. He also said he really enjoyed being in nature and being able to put his hands in the creek.

Amanda Hewitt, with Walking Mountains, said they had an "ah-ha" moment when students tested the pH of still and flowing water and found they tested different.

"Just those rapid results in the field and drawing those conclusions is pretty fun," she said.

The students will be able to apply the knowledge they obtained from Gore Creek to analyzing the health of Gypsum Creek. Getting kids outside helps them see the science that's behind everything.

"It's connecting them to their natural world and helping them learn more what's in their backyard, having a personal connection to what's in their backyard," Hewitt said.

learn more

To learn more about Gore Creek restoration efforts and how you can get involved, click on “Programs” and then “Gore Creek” at lovevail.org.