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Master your backyard with a science school class

Daily Staff ReportVail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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Whether youve lived in the valley a year or 20, theres no end to what you could learn from spending a day in the mountains. As John Muir once put it, that day in the mountains is worth a mountain of books. A late June stroll could reveal a field of columbine youve never seen before. Or perhaps you stumble upon a fox den near your favorite trail. But what if your penchant for life-long learning and woodland investigations could make you a master? A master naturalist, that is. Mastering natural history starts with the basics, said Ann Stevenson, community programs director at Gore Range Natural Science School. Weve designed an entire field school curriculum that caters to a diversity of interests and is designed as a progression that takes you from novice to master, she said.For most of the Science Schools 10 year history, it offered a menu of adult programs that focused on various topics. We had the etymology of fly fishing, orienteering, alpine ecology, wildflower walks or photography, said Carol Busch, director of marketing and communication. These would change up from year to year, but with no purpose behind them. When Ann started two years ago, she came with a vision for how our summer adult programs could provide a tangible learning experience that had a purposeful and action-oriented outcome.Stevensons field school curriculum is organized according to topics that appear yearly, such as wildflowers, birds, wildlife and ecology. Next, she designed basic, classic-and master-level courses within each topic. Basic courses, such as Wildflower Finder and Fledgling Birders, occur yearly. They target nature enthusiasts eager to learn a new skill, or simply wish to refresh their knowledge. Classic courses change from year to year and provide a more in-depth study of a particular subject. Master classes are designed for experienced nature enthusiasts who are keen on continuing education or conservation-related projects. The goal of taking people through this progression of basic to master is to provide a framework for awareness to action. This is what true learning is all about applying your knowledge. When it comes to the Science School, awareness to action comes to life through environmental stewardship, Stevenson said. For instance, last month the master-level ecology course, Colorados Climate connected program participants to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), which is the brainchild of State Climatologist Dr. Nolan Doesken from Colorado State University. CoCoRaHS is a nationwide program that has volunteers collect weather and climate data that provides important daily decision-making information on drought and water supply for agricultural and insurance industries, utility providers, resource managers, teachers, scientists and homeowners.Whats really great about the field school curriculum is that people can use this basic, classic or master level course filter for self selecting what programs they want to take, but in the end, there are no prerequisites for taking any of our courses. You can spend a summer or a lifetime earning your certification, Stevenson said. Upcoming programs include wolves, ptarmigan, wildflower illustration, mushroom forays and mountain lions. View the complete course line up at http://www.gorerange.org.

Not every flower you meet on the trail is native to Colorado. Most of these non-native, or noxious, weeds originated in Europe or Asia and arrived either accidentally or were planted as ornamentals. Since the insects, diseases or animals that normally keep these plants in check arent found here, these plants can proliferate at an alarming rate and replace native plants. On July 17, Nicola Ripley, director of horticulture and research at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, will teach a class on identifying several native plants from non-natives plants. Wildflowers & Weeds is for anyone interested in learning more about wildflower identification, as well as information on Colorados noxious weeds and the ethics surrounding botanical gardening. There are many plants you shouldnt include in your backyard garden, said local flower expert Donna Robinson. Robinson helps coordinate Science School adult seminars and will assist Ripley with the program. Between Nicolas native versus non-native botanical expertise and Donnas wildflower identification skills, this program will boast a rich dynamic, said Ann Stevenson, the Science Schools community programs director who conceived the master-level Wildflowers & Weeds. No previous flower identification experience is necessary to participate in the program. Attendees will travel to Booth Creek Falls from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $50. For more information or to register for the program, call the Science School at 970-827-9725, ext. 10.


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