In Telluride, Valley Floor Education Day sparks scientific curiosity

15 years ago, residents and visitors to Telluride raised $50 million to purchase 570 acres of land on the west end of town for use as open space.
The Valley Floor is home to local elk, cross country ski trails in the winter and hiking and biking in the summer. (Julia Caulfield/KOTO)

by | Jun 8, 2022 | Education, Environment


This story comes to KHOL through the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition.

Walking out onto the Valley Floor on a warm, albeit slightly smoky Monday morning, small groups of kindergarten, first and second graders tromp through the open space. It’s the Valley Floor Education Day.

“We learn about birds. We learn about invertebrates. We learn about river flow. We learn about the spruce forest, and we learn about the history of the Valley Floor,” said Sarah Holbrooke, executive director of the Pinhead Institute–a youth science nonprofit.

“It’s cute to be able to see the kid’s faces when you say ‘You know, this is your Valley Floor, this is yours.’ They’re like ‘What?,'” she added. “It’s our Valley floor. We live here in Telluride to experience it and learn from it, and it’s just wonderful to see the kid’s faces light up when they get onto the grass and see the goose poop, and see the scopes and see the bugs that come out of the pond. They’ll learn lessons on water flow, hydrology, the river, all that kind of stuff. It’s a great day.”

Pinhead, along with Sheep Mountain Alliance–an environmental nonprofit–the Telluride Institute, and the Telluride Historical Museum are collaborating on the day.

Over at the pond, students learn about habitat and birds. Vicki Phelps teaches about invertebrates.

“We found quite a bit in the pond. Normally we find all sorts of cool stuff in the river, but the flow is so high. It’s really hard to get your grip with the kick net,” Phelps noted. “But we found some mayflies, leeches, scuds, worms, backswimmers [and] boatmen (which have these cool paddle-like appendages).”

Phelps hopes Valley Floor Day helps foster appreciation for the landscape and a better understanding of how everything is connected.

“This is sort of an icebreaker for the Valley Floor,” she said. “Then, they can come back with their families and share their excitement and their knowledge.”

Moving to the river, there are beaver’s homes to explore and streamflow to understand. Stepping back into a willow grove, students make bracelets out of willow, learning about the Ute people who used to summer on the Valley Floor.

Vivian Hartnett, who’s 6, likes coming to the Valley Floor to look for treasures and fossils.

“I really like to do a lot of fun stuff down in the Valley Floor,” she said.

Today, her favorite part of the day is learning about the beavers.

“Rivers are really important to beavers and things that like to live in the water,” Vivian explained. “The trees are really important for elk and everything is important for nature.”

Vivian’s mom, Amy Hartnett, is along for the field trip as well. For her, Valley Floor Day helps children get a better understanding of the place they live.

“I think the more that kids can learn about where they live, and the importance of ecosystems, people that have lived here before them, animals. It just helps them realize that they’re part of something bigger.” Hartnett said. “It makes them want to care for things more and respect everything from the big mountains to the tiny little bugs that live on the Valley Floor. Everything in between is very special, and it’s great for them to learn at this age. It’s really important for them to learn so young.”

Telluride celebrated Valley Floor Day on May 9 with a banner on Main Street–recognizing the 13th anniversary of the Valley Floor becoming Open Space. A community treasure available to explore for generations to come.

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About Julia Caulfield

Julia is News Director at KOTO in Telluride, Colorado. She reports on housing, public health, and the environment in Southwest Colorado.

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