• Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Black Canyon Of The Gunnison

    National Park Colorado

The Gunnison River: Neversink

National Park Service Mission

...to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area Outreach Education is committed to: Creating an awareness and fostering an appreciation for the mission of the National Park Service and the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Curecanti National Recreation Area and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.


Curriculum enhancing activities designed to complement national and state content standards across a variety of disciplines.

Title: The Gunnison River - Neversink

Grade level: Fourth Grade

Time length: 3-4 hours (approximate)

Subject areas: Science, math, social studies, language arts

Teacher: 3-4 NPS Education Specialists

Theme: Riparian areas provide life lines in the high arid altitudes of Colorado.

NPS focus: Public Law 39-535 (Organic Act),

Public Law 95-250 (Redwood National Park Expansion Act),

Vail Agenda Education Committee Report,

Curecanti and Black Canyon Themes: Natural Resources/Wildlife

Environmental concepts:

The sun is the source of all energy (energy flow).

Everything is connected (interrelationships).

Everything must fit how and where it lives (adaptation).

Everything is going somewhere (cycles).

Everything is becoming something else (change).

There is no free lunch (community).

Environmental learning hierarchy: Ecological principles, problem-solving processes, decision making procedures.

Materials: Plant Station: Binary key for keying out trees and shrubs surrounding Neversink; 20 small magnifying glasses. Stream Safari Station: 20 dip nets; small insect viewing boxes with magnifying lids; 20 1/2 gallon milk cartons; 10 white photography pans; stream life i.d. sheets and poster diagramming aquatic insects, rubber boots.


Knowledge: Students will be able to name the components of the food chain and give examples of each.

Students will be able to identify two common local plant species using a simple binary key.

Students will be able to give two examples of plant adaptations.

Students will be able to give two examples of adaptations of aquatic insects.

Students will be able to give two examples of erosional forces surrounding Neversink.

Comprehension: Students will be able to verbally describe the function and purpose of each member of the food chain.

Students will be able to verbally define photosynthesis and know what is needed for it to occur.

Students will be able to verbally explain how a riparian habitat supports surrounding arid habitats.

Students will be able to verbally explain the importance of aquatic insects and how they fit into the food chain.

Students will be able to verbally describe how the velocity of water effects the shape of the river and the surrounding habitats.

Application: Students will be able to take what they learned from each of the stations and give examples of how it applies to their everyday life.

Functional foliage!:


Plants and animals are similar, or alike, in some ways. Can you think of anything that a plant and an animal have in common with each other? Both are made of protoplasm, which sounds like a big ball of slime, but it’s really mostly water and protein. Both plants and animals have cells and tissues of various kinds that serve different functions. Both can reproduce themselves, one way or another. And both plants and animals need food, or energy, to survive. But there’s one big difference between plants and animals; plants can make their own food!


Trees and other green plants make their food through photosynthesis, which means “putting together with light.” Many parts of the tree are involved in photosynthesis, and the process requires sunlight, air, water, and nutrients. Let’s pretend that we are parts of a green plant, and that we can make food using sunlight. I need a volunteer who can be our roots. Your job is to absorb water and minerals from the soil. Practice the sound and movement of roots sucking water and nutrients from the soil. Where do the roots send the water and nutrients? To the leaves. Who can be our leaves, filled with something called chlorophyll? Chlorophyll gives its green color to leaves and stems. Now the sunlight passes through the leaf, bumps into the chlorophyll, and breaks the water into two parts, hydrogen and oxygen. So we need someone to represent the sun, hydrogen and oxygen. Now let’s practice that. The roots suck water and minerals from the soil, and send them to the leaves. The leaves, which are filled with chlorophyll, absorb the water and minerals. Now the sun begins to shine, it passes through the leaf and bumps into the chlorophyll. This causes the water to break apart into hydrogen and oxygen. Good so far. Let’s see what else happens. We need someone to be the air. The air has carbon and oxygen in it, among other gases. Since the sunlight broke the water apart, that means that the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are just floating around out there. Now the hydrogen from the broken water joins with the carbon and other things from the air. This produces starches and sugars, which are food for the plant. So this process is called what? Photosynthesis, which means putting together with light. The plant gets food for itself, and then animals and people can eat the plants. What do you think happens to the loose oxygen that is floating around from the broken water? It gets released from the leaf and then it’s in the air for US to breath! Therefore, who can name two reasons why photosynthesis is a very useful process? Makes food for plants and in turn for humans, and it produces oxygen for us to breath.

EVERY TREE FOR ITSELF (has a corresponding worksheet on “S” drive, week 2)– Project Learning Tree – interdependence and habitat of trees/plants (15-20 min)

*Discuss the relationship of trees/plants to their habitat, i.e. soil, climate, water AND also interdependence before activity

Explain that there are many different plants and trees in the CURE area. Assign each student a tree or plant. Have them spread out, without stepping on vegetation, preferably. Explain that their right foot represents their roots that are planted in the ground, their left foot represents roots that can suck up water and nutrients, and their hands/arms represent their branches/leaves/needles/flowers that can suck up sunlight, water, nutrients. Then spread out the 3” by 3” squares of blue (water), yellow (sunlight), and green (nutrients) made from construction paper (maybe laminated) within reach of the students. Explain what each represents and that as trees and plants, they each need these things to survive. They need to collect as many squares of each color as they can in 30 sec. They can reach with their roots (left foot) and branches (arms) for these squares, but one foot must stay planted on the ground at all times (they can’t move from the spot where they are rooted). After done collecting, have them record what types and how many squares they found. Discuss how many of each, each person got…did anyone not get certain colors? What would happen to a real tree or plant if it didn’t have these requirements? Can a tree or plant have too much of any of these requirements? Then have them stand in clumps and repeat the activity. Notice any changes? Did any trees or plants “die” or become “sick”? Depending on time you may repeat the activity again, using fewer yellow or green or blue squares. Record results and discuss their meaning.

Forest Observation Time (3-5 minutes):

Each child receives a 2 foot long piece of yarn and instructions to find a spot that they like, form a circle on the ground with their string, and search for life, whether plants or animals. How do they interact with each other? Draw a picture of one neat thing that you see.

Check For Student Understanding:

Do you think plants are important to us? Why? (Oxygen, beauty, create privacy, wood products, food products)."



Have the students sit in a comfortable place, forming a semi-circle around you. "I remember when I was about your age, I loved to play in the river. I could find all sorts of neat creatures underneath the rocks. Have any of you ever found a neat insect in the river, or under a rock in the water? Why are they in the river, when they're supposed to be flying? There are many forms of insects that live in the river during their larval stage. This is a stage similar to the caterpillar stage in butterflies. Butterflies start out as eggs, then hatch into the caterpillar, or larvae. Then the caterpillar turns into the pupa, and the butterfly emerges with wings! Just as butterflies go through a life cycle, or metamorphosis, so do the insects in the river (although 12% of insects go through incomplete metamorphosis instead, with just 3 stages--egg, nymph (looks like adults, but lacks wings) and adult). Today you’re going to have the chance to explore the Gunnison River, looking for insects in an effort to determine if the water quality is good or poor.


Stream Safari

"Why do you think aquatic insects are important? The insects fit into the food chain and they tell us about the overall health of a river. When a river is polluted there will be fewer insects, and fewer types of insects. The more adaptable insects will survive while the weaker kinds will die. The number and variety of insects in the water tells us if the water is clean or contaminated.

Insects are an important part of the web of life. For instance, what do fish like to eat? That's right, many fish eat insects. If most of the insects in the river die, what will happen to the fish? They’ll die. If the fish die because they don't have food, what other animals would be impacted? (Fishermen, Great Blue Herons, bigger fish that eat little fish, etc.) What other types of animals eat insects? (Bats, birds, frogs)"

Some common insects that you may find in the water today are the caddisfly, stonefly, and mayfly larvae (Show a laminated picture of each, and point out the number of tails. The stonefly has only two tails, but the mayfly has three. The stonefly is larger than the mayfly.). What kinds of adaptations do aquatic insects have so they are not swept away in the river? The caddisflies make themselves a little case to live in so that they can stay on the rocks without being pulled downstream. Other adaptations are their small size, their ability to hold onto the rocks using suckers or silken threads (almost like a spider!), and the tendency to swim upriver."

Guided Practice:

Tell the students that today they are entomologists (scientists who study insects), studying the aquatic life of the river. Remind them to take their job seriously. Demonstrate to them how they should collect insects by using the net, overturning rocks, and placing the insects immediately into a clear collecting jar with about two inches of water in it. Show the students how they should release the insects that they will collect carefully without touching them more than necessary. Set area boundaries (be careful of the current) and a time limit. Tell the students that you have a special container for discoveries the students would like to share with the whole group at the end of their exploration.

Have students get a partner and give each group of two students a dip net and a plastic jar. Each student should find a pair of rubber boots to wear. Let the students know that the boots will not be comfortable, and it’s not important that they fit perfectly or even that they’re the same size. The purpose of the boots is to keep their feet dry. They are waterproof only if they walk in water that’s shallower than the top of the boot. In addition, give each group a laminated diagram depicting the various insects. While the students are finding insects, supervision is needed. Walk around to the separate groups and help them identify insects.

One student can use a piece of pH paper to determine how acidic or basic the water is. Use the chart to point out where clean water falls on the pH scale (during the discussion).

When collecting time is over, gather everyone in a central location. Collect the dip nets from the students and put the collection jars in a location away from the students. Have students sit in a semi-circle and place the white photography pans (partially filled with water) in the middle. Let the individual students talk about the insects that they caught and want to share. You may also want to put certain animals in the bug boxes which can then be passed around the group. The kids are VERY excited about what they found and it is important to keep the discussion focused while allowing them to remain excited. This is very tricky. Make sure the students keep the insects in the shade while observing them. Once the "show and tell" is finished, have kids take the responsibility of safely returning the animals to the stream as you have demonstrated.

Check For Student Understanding:

Based on the number of insects we collected, and the different types of insects, do you think that the water of the Gunnison River is clean or contaminated? (If there are several types of insects that are pollution INtollerant, most likely the water is clean). Can you think of some reasons why aquatic insects are important?"



See section III, Web of Life.


Web of Life

Have students sit in a big circle. "In this station we are going to learn about something called the food chain. The food chain is a cycle that includes plants that make their own food, animals that eat the plants, animals that eat other animals, and fungi (mushrooms) and worms that decompose the dead plants and animals and use them to create soil. We are going to learn all the links in the food chain. We'll start the food chain with the sun because the sun is the source of all energy (use pictures to demonstrate each part of the food chain). The next step in the food chain is green plants, which use the sun's energy to make nutrients for themselves. They are called producers. What eats green plants, or producers? Herbivores. Can everyone say that with me? Herbivores are plant eaters. In the food chain they are called primary consumers. What are some examples of plant eaters in the animal kingdom?" Have students name some different herbivores (deer, prairie dogs, insects). "What do you think would be next in the food chain? Those animals that eat the primary consumers. They are called secondary consumers. Secondary consumers eat meat, and some eat meat and plants. What are meat eaters called? Carnivores. What are animals called that eat both meat and plants? Omnivores! What are you - a herbivore, carnivore or omnivore? Do you know what the biggest omnivore is in Colorado? The black bear. Bears eat fish, berries, and other meat. What do you suppose the next link is in the food chain after secondary consumers? Decomposers. Decomposers break down materials or dead organisms and use them to form soil. Decomposers are important because they start the food chain cycle all over again. What are some examples of decomposers? (mushrooms, earthworms)"

· Pass out the necklace cards to all the volunteers.

· Everyone stand in a circle. Think about which card represents what all life needs to grow (the sun). Hand the end of the yarn to the "sun" card.

· What would be next in the chain? It would be a plant, so the “sun” should gently toss the ball of yarn to one of the “plants.” The plant should hold onto the yarn tightly and gently toss the yarn to an “animal” that eats plants (ie: an herbivore). Keep going until everyone is forming part of the web.

· Continue through the list in the same manner until all the labeled cards have been used.

· When all the cards have been used, discuss what would happen if one of the items were removed from the environment (through deforestation, all the predators are hunted to extinction, water is contaminated by a newly built factory, etc.). Start removing things from their environment. If something will not survive with another thing, another critter must be taken out of the web. As the chain collapses, discuss the importance of each living thing in every habitat.

Guided Practice:

(Optional discovery hike) "Now that we know all about the food chain, let's go look for some components of it here at Neversink." Lead the children on an excursion looking for various producers, consumers, and decomposers.

"What would happen if there were no producers at Neversink? What if there were no decomposers?" Discuss how nature delicately balances all of the components of the food chain. Bring up the consequences of harsh winters, starvation, lack of grasses for primary consumers, excess populations in one group of the food chain, and the impact that humans may have on the scheme of the cycle (hunting, feeding animals, reducing the space in their habitats, etc.). Be sure the students understand how each component of the food chain can drastically affect (either directly or indirectly) other components.

Finish by playing the “Camouflage” game. Review the concepts of “predator” and “prey”. How does a prey animal protect itself from its predators? One way is by camouflaging itself with its environment. Choose 1 person to be the predator. Everyone else is a prey animal. The predator closes his/her eyes and counts loudly to 20. Meanwhile, all the prey find a place to hide (within the boundaries the ranger has set). Important: While in hiding, the prey animals MUST at all times be able to see the predator. After counting to 20, the predator opens his/her eyes and, standing in 1 place (cannot walk around), looks around, calling out the name (or a description of the clothing) of anyone s/he sees. The prey animals who have been spotted must come out of hiding and sit near the predator (but not assist him/her). Once the predator cannot see any other prey, s/he closes his/her eyes and counts loudly to 10. All the prey that have not been discovered should run closer to the predator and find a new hiding place, making sure they can still see the predator. The predator stands in the same place and once again calls out the names of the prey s/he can see. If there are some prey animals remaining when the predator can no longer find any, the predator should loudly yell “Camouflage”. All the remaining prey will run to the predator, and the 1st to tag him/her becomes the next predator.

Check For Student Understanding:

"Why is it important to keep our air, water, and soil clean? What happens when we cut down some of the trees, or pick some of the flowers, or hunt some of the animals? Do you think we play a big role in the web of life? Could we survive without plants and animals?" Review the different components within the food chain. "Why do you suppose we studied the food chain here at Neversink? Would this be a good area to live if you were a mouse, a bird, or a deer? Neversink has many resources needed for survival."



Rivers In Motion

Hike to a place along the Gunnison River where there is a bend in the river and a nice place to sit down with a group.

What words come to mind when I say the word "river"? (Water, clean, cold, swimming, fun). Today, we'll be talking a lot about rivers. What are they? What are some of their characteristics? Why are rivers important? Water is incredibly important to all living things. Can anything survive without water? No. How long can a person survive without water? 3 days. What percent of your body is water? (70-75%)

Which river is this? Gunnison River. One of our biggest connections to every living thing in the Southwest is this river. Which direction is it flowing? West/Northwest Where does this water end up? It joins the CO River in Grand Junction, goes through Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California and eventually ends up (if there is enough water) in Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, the Pacific Ocean. Our connection to the living things down river is that we are sharing this water. Sometimes people think it's not a big deal to dump garbage or pollutants into a river because it would not hurt us, it would flow downstream and disappear from our lives. But that would harm all the people and wildlife living downstream.

There are several characteristics of a river that can help us understand how they work and what effects we have on them. First, let's go over some definitions and identify them in the river. Meandering, Erosion, Velocity, Natural river vs. a man-made river, Sedimentation. Look at the river in front of us. Is this a natural river or a man-made one? (Natural) How can you tell? (it meanders, there's vegetation on the shoreline) Where will the velocity be fastest? (On the outer bend). Where will erosion occur the most? (On the outer bend) Where is there more sedimentation? (On the inner bend).

Guided Practice:

Separate the students into groups of 3-5. Each group will now have a chance to create their own river. Use your imagination! You may use anything that is dead and down on the forest floor, like twigs, rocks, branches, fallen leaves, weeds, but please do not uproot plants or break branches off the trees. You must create a natural river, demonstrating meandering and showing me where erosion, velocity, and sedimentation are the highest. How would you protect your river? (make sure that nobody tears down the natural vegetation alongside the river, make it a national park, construct buildings far from the river, prevent erosion, keep cows out of it, don't let anybody dump pollution in it).

Check For Student Understanding:

"Why do the sides of the river look different in the curves? It is because the water is traveling faster, at a greater velocity, on the outside of the bend than on the inside. The faster water, on the outside bank, picks up more sand or dirt from its bank than the slower water on the inside bank. As the river flows down, the sand, or sedimentation, in the river is able to settle on the inner bends where the water is slower. How does this affect the life in the river? (When sedimentation occurs, insects aren't able to attach to rocks as easily and may die. Also, fish aren't able to find as many hiding places.) Do you think this changes the habitat for aquatic insects? How can this change the river over a long period of time?" (It causes the course of the river to meander back and forth, eroding one side, depositing sediment on the other. A river is always changing course.) Why is it important to know as much as we can about rivers? (So we will know how to protect our water sources and the water down river.) Water is incredibly important to all living things. Without it, or with polluted water, we could not survive. I challenge all of you to learn as much as you can about water and do your best to protect and conserve the water in your community.


See section III in all sections.


See section III in all sections.


Not appropriate.


Have the kids reunite at the central picnic area, sitting with the same group as they were in when they visited the various stations. All of the Rangers should stand in front of the group and announce a brief competition to see which of the 4 groups learned the most throughout the day. Each ranger should take turns asking a general (or specific) question about something that the students should have learned at their station. The first group to raise their hand and correctly answer the question gets a point. Continue this review for 5-10 minutes and then announce the winning team. Remind the students that riparian habitats such as Neversink support a lot of wildlife in the surrounding arid areas of Curecanti. Have the students think about how an area such as Neversink may affect their own lives. Thank them for their visit and wave as the bus drives away.


Indicate what you judge to have been the strengths of the lesson, what changes you made during the lesson and what changes you would make if you were to teach the unit again.

Did You Know?

Rapids of Gunnison River

The Gunnison River through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park drops at an average of 95 feet per mile. By comparison, the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile.