Centauri eighth-graders ‘Hard Work’ Service Project

Courtesy of Rio Grande National Forest Centauri eighth-graders watch as Forest Service personnel demonstrate how to install a fire ring.

Land, Water and People

Low clouds provided a near full sky cover as we arrived at the slightly damp Elk Creek Trailhead on Thursday, May 16. We hoped and prayed for the rain to hold off as we discussed the promise of a break in the clouds that was forecast for later. The green Forest Service uniforms worn by 10 of us lent an official atmosphere to the coming workday. As it should. In about an hour, we would be joined by over fifty students from the Centauri eighth grade class, and we needed to look like we were in charge!

Mrs. Keys and other eight grade teachers had approached the Conejos Peak Ranger District’s Recreation Staff Officer to discuss a Service Project for the students to conduct. At the site, Jeremiah Martinez introduced himself to the students and allowed the Forest Service staff to introduce themselves and provide information on what we do as stewards of their public lands. The increasingly fidgety crowd of high energy kids were then given a thorough safety briefing and advised of what we were planning to accomplish that day.

They set right to work just as the sun broke through the clouds. With a focus on communication and group development skills, the students separated into eleven groups and eagerly began installing new manufactured fire rings, breaking down the existing rock fire rings and dispersing the rocks to keep the area safe for vehicles. As it always should be when out in the woods, trash pick was also a priority.

Most groups immediately dispersed to scattered locations in the roadside meadow as another group was assigned to provide them with the tools and supplies they needed. Rocks were eagerly piled into the small skid steer to take them away from the sites. The melodic clanking resonated across the entire meadow lending a construction-like atmosphere to the scene. Rakes and shovels swiftly removed the ash and debris from the old rings. In true teenager form, the students made impromptu games and competitions as they hauled very heavy bags of debris to the dump trailer. There was lots of laughing.

The groups were given the decision space to determine the precise locations the fire rings would be installed. Once decided, they then dug the holes for the mounting pins. Reeling back from the dust, the concrete sacks were dumped in the holes and the students then carefully mixed the water in and set the pins. One final check with the level and the topsoil was scraped back over to cover the remainder of the open hole.

I was there only as an observer and photographer. I had to work fast to visit that many groups of enthusiastic kids several times as they progressed through the project. The adult group leaders were amazingly patient as they quietly encouraged the students to work as a group, solve problems and complete their tasks. But complete them they did, and fast!

Some of the kids had been to the Elk Creek area before but, some had not. Regardless, we could easily tell that the students really appreciated being outside that day. One girl even didn’t want to go onto the bus for lunch, saying “can’t we stay outside?” That is definitely a win for us outdoor people!

It was a special experience for many, and the Ranger District couldn’t be more pleased. A lot of hard work was done that morning, and we believe it was a good introduction to one of the aspects of managing your public lands. As fun as it was though, one young lady exclaimed to me, “this is really hard work! I don’t think I’ll be joining you Forest people as a job!” I’m still smiling from that statement.

Martinez said “it should go without saying, but we are very grateful for the opportunity to connect with our local youth in this meaningful way. Our time and investment are important to the stewardship of our national forests but equally important to our profession, is our growth and investment into the local communities that surround us. We strive to be the best partner we can with them, as they are also our communities.”

Like many of our employees, including Martinez, we all think that some of these great young workers just may end up working for us. See you in a few years!

Gregg Goodland is the Public Affairs Officer for the Rio Grande National Forest. As an avid outdoor enthusiast, he encourages individual stewardship and responsible use of our public lands.