Estes Park High School
Students from Estes Park High School have been doing research in the park and producing podcasts about their experiences since 2010. These podcasts are the products of their work.
Students from Estes Park HS investigate the history of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park to discover why there are so many elk today.
- Credit / Author:
- Estes Park HS Students
- Date created:
What’s Up With All the Elk?
Elk, elk everywhere. So how did Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park become so overrun with elk anyway? Has it always been that way?
Today we are exploring the elk and human interaction in the Estes Valley. We'll talk with a local historian, two park rangers, and a wildlife biologist to try and help answer that nagging question, what's up with all the elk? We are here today at the Estes Park Museum with Dr. James Pickering. He wrote some of the informational book s on Estes Park history. Welcome Dr. Pickering. Thank you Emily. Dr. Pickering, tell us how the elk first disappeared from the Estes Valley. Abner Sprague one of our earliest pioneers tells us that in the 1870s, the elk came down from the mountains by hundreds in the fall, but by 1900 they were all gone, because the early settlers hunted them for food, but more importantly every fall these hunters from the valley would come up and then take the elk meat back to Denver near their front range towns and sell them for their meet. When where the elk reintroduced to the valley? In 1913 and again in 1915 Mr. Stanley and Mr. Hondius and the other residents of Estes Park pooled their money and they bought two small herds of elk from Wyoming in the Yellowstone region. They brought them down by train to Lyon s, and on the backs of Stanley steamer cars in cages and brought them to Estes Park and release them in 1915 what will become the national Park. Tell us how the elk became over populated. Those two small elk herds began to grow rather rapidly, and they did that through the 1920s, and part of the reason they multiplied so quickly was the National Park Service and our own Park here had a policy of getting rid of the predators, typically the mountain lions, so there was nothing to stop those elk from multiplying and they did. So by 1931 less than 20 years after they were introduced they began to leave the parking numbers and ended up down here in the village and not just in the national Park. We knew there was a problem farmers began to report that elk were in their fields, and in their haystacks, of course that was what they were raising so they could live up here. Of course the elk remain one of our greatest assets, we know a lot more about them now certainly more than we did in 1913 and 1915 Mr. Stanley brought them back to Estes Park.
What I learned about the elk I'm afraid Estes Park will be overrun with animals of that kind, and we may have to get Roosevelt up there to help reduce the number.
Today we are here with Ranger Holly and arranger Nicole. They're going to answer some questions about the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Welcome, how do the elk affect wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park? The plant species that are going to be directly affected is the Aspen and the Willow. Both of those plants are huge habitat for animals we have in the park, specifically the beaver population. The more browsing the elk do on the Willow and Aspen the more damage is done. What are exclosures and what do you use them for? It's basically an area for keeping the elk out. We have two types of exclosures in Rocky Mountain National Park, the first one is from the 1980s which involved doing preliminary research on the vegetation, and the others are called management exclosures installed in 2008 and beyond. Everything can fit under that fence except Elk. It's important to know that we have adapted these fences for visitor use as well. What we're trying to do is give that Willow and that Aspen a good head start on their growth.
We are here with Dr. Rick Spowart who is an expert with the Colorado Division Of Wildlife. Thank you Emily. Dr. Spowart are the elk in the Estes Valley over populated? Currently in this game management unit GMU 20, the elk are not overpopulated we might have a distribution problem which means that different times of the year means we may have to many elk.
Can you tell us what CWD is? CWD are the initials for chronic wasting disease. It's a neurologic disease that's always fatal, and CWD is in the elk herds, deer herds , and white- tailed deer herds, and moose here in Colorado. How does the DOW monitor the elk herds and numbers? Do several things, every year we have elk classifications, counts where we look at total number of animals but also marked animals. By using the Laten Peterson Index, we can get a really good idea of the total number of animals even though we can't see them all. We also classify the elk and look at bulls, cows, and young animals in the categories. We plug all this information into a computer model, and it spits out information that we can use to determine how many elk there are, and help us manage populations statewide.
Students from Estes Park HS have been collecting data about mountain lions in Rocky Mountain National. Learn about mountain lions and their project.
- Credit / Author:
- Estes Park HS Students
- Date created:
Mountain Lion Script
(elk bulging in the background)
Hello and welcome to Estes Park, Colorado, where for the past few years a group of students have been collecting data about Mountain Lions and their whereabouts. To change the cameras the students must first hike up to their location in Rocky Mountain National Park, they then open it and record the number of pictures It has taken. After this they turn the power off and remove the SD card, replace the battery and turn it back on and reset the date and time. Once the camera is closed is ready for another week of data collection.
I'm Gary Miller I'm a wildlife biologist here at Rocky Mountain National Park. So is there any program in the park that monitors Mountain Lion activity? In the park we don't specifically have a program that focuses just on mountain lions. Are there any plans for future monitoring by the park? Right now we will maintain the work that we're doing now, we are not seeing any indications change our approach. Is this the same case on the west side of the park? Yes, we don't have the monitoring systems of the students like we do on the east side. What do we have here? This is the skull of a mountain lion, and they are a carnivore. Look at these teeth right here, see how like our molars kind of grind the teeth slice like a pair of scissors. Those are called Carnases teeth, that is part of the reason they are called a carnivore. They are a straight meat eater, and they don't care much about vegetation at all. They are extremely powerful, they are the fourth largest meat eater in the world, the largest cat in North America, and they range all the way from the Yukon in Canada to Argentina.
So here we have a dead elk it looks like, is it possible a mountain lion may have killed that? Although this one has been dead a while, it could have been a mountain lion kill. Typically what you will see if you're out hiking, a dead elk or deer, mountain lions always do after they kill their animal they cover it. Have you ever seen, if you have a cat when they use the litter box they'll cover it up. If you come upon a dead elk or deer and it's covered, you can bet there's a mountain lion close by. Is it true the mountain lions range has been decreasing? I haven't noticed that, it actually has been increasing. It's been a pleasure talking to you, I appreciate it.
Some issues in Rocky Mountain NPS create a lot of buzz. Students from Estes Park HS investigate some of these hot topics, including the pine beetle epidemic, the elk culling, and the 2010 deaths on Long's Peak.
- Credit / Author:
- Estes Park HS Students
- Date created:
My name is Morgan Brown and I am a student here at Estes Park middle school. Today I'll be discussing with you some of the hot topics here Rocky Mountain National Park in 2010. The first will be discussing the pine beetle issue, then the elk culling process, and finally the deaths on Longs Peak. We'll also be discussing these issues can be prevented, and ongoing research. Thank you for watching and please go enjoy the program.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but if you look across the trees in our national park, there’s a red hue developing. This is the leading result of the Pine Beetle infestation. The Pine Beetle epidemic has been a long fought war in our nation, but never in Rocky Mountain National Park’s history have we seen these devastating effects. Due to global climate change, the beetles find it easier to attack healthy stands of forest within the Rocky Mountain region. In addition to global conditions, trees have been weakened by prolonged periods of drought.
And now we're joined by Kyle Patterson the public information officer for Rocky Mountain National Park. She's going to be answering some questions about these topics. About the pine beetle issue, what is the leading reason the beetle epidemic struck this park? Well a lot of experts call it the perfect storm, due to a number of factors the beetles have certainly thrived. Drought conditions are certainly weakening the trees, so when you have these beautiful trees susceptible to drought they become weaker and weaker. We also have warmer winters than we used to, so in the past when we've had beetle epidemic's cold winters have come along and killed the beetles. We haven't had those same cold winters lately. Our forests in the park and in surrounding areas are all basically the same age stands, so because the diversity of age stands is not there the beetles have capitalized on that and have been able to infiltrate the forests. It's not just happening in Rocky Mountain National Park the epidemic is happening from British Columbia all the way to Mexico.
Here in Estes Park, it is not odd to see a couple elk wandering on city streets. But in the park, there are a few less than there were before. Park officials have no certain way to estimate the total number of elk in the park. Some are estimating that the elk herd here has reached 1,600 to 2,100 animals. The local vegetation in Rocky Mountain National Park is becoming trampled and scarce because of the many elk searching for food. So, to create a solution, our rangers have decided to lessen the population by adaptive management strategies.
Once again we're with Kyle Patterson, and will be discussing the culling and vegetation management plan. Why has the elk population gotten so much bigger in the past few years? We've done research over the past 20 years now and basically found that the elk herds in Rocky Mountain National Park where they spend their winters are larger and less migratory than they would under natural conditions. We don't have an intact predator base in Rocky Mountain National Park, which means we don't have wolves and grizzly bears but we do have coyotes. And wolves in particular have an impact on elk moving and dispersion. So since we don't have some of those natural conditions the elk have been able to stay in one location, staying put in one area, our research has shown that they impact the Willow and Aspen community significantly. So why do we care? Willow and Aspen communities provide an incredible biodiversity for other species. What is the park doing about vegetative waste from overpopulation of elk? Our biggest concern in the winter range, we are not seeing any new growth of Aspen. There are only older stands of Aspen, when they die there will be no younger Aspen to take their place. With the Willow, because they're being browsed and grazed so much we're not seeing any regrowth with them. And this is minimizing the amount of habitat for other species. So you might see a 50-year-old Willow that is only this high which is not going to provide good habitat for other animals. We are using a variety of tools; we are fencing some limited areas in the park. We are also culling elk to keep their population numbers down. How does the elk culling process play out? In 2009 we started implementing the culling aspect of our elk and vegetation management plan. Our cull teams are very clinical, they go out very early in the morning we’re usually done by nine o'clock. We do this during the wintertime when our visitation is the very least. We have not had to cull a lot of animals because in the last three years we've seen our population numbers stabilized in the park. We continue to manage for an elk herd inside the perimeter of Rocky Mountain National Park from 600 to 800, and we are within that range right now. So we've been doing the culling operation and we adaptively manage for differences in the population. Every fall we look and see how the elk herd is doing, how many calves have been born, and if we need to make any changes to our management plan and the number of animals that may need to be culled a year.
2010 has been a busy year for incidents in Rocky Mountain National Park. Many of these could’ve been prevented. Among these events, we had 37 major search and rescue operations and the parks regular ten year average is 25. Three of these rescue missions were deaths on Longs Peak. The climb to the top, the Longs Peak Keyhole Route, is considered a Class 3 climb, going off route or not paying close attention could be fatal. So, anyone who is considering climbing Longs Peak needs to come prepared.
What is the leading cause of accidents on Longs Peak this summer? As far as the leading number of accidents on the Keyhole Route we have a number of falling accidents and falling fatalities in Rocky Mountain National Park. Falling is actually the leading cause of death in Rocky Mountain National Park, and so the Keyhole Route many times is considered as a hike, they may not be prepared necessarily for the mountaineering aspect of this climb. We had six fatalities related to falling in 2010, they were not all on the Keyhole Route they were from a variety of recreational outings. On the Keyhole Route if you fall, you’re falling for quite a long distance or you’re falling in a very rocky area, so your injuries are going to be very significant. If people survive the fall on the Keyhole Route it usually is a very severe injury and intensive rescue situation. How do the park rangers and paramedics get them down and take care of them? It really depends on the incident and where they fall along the Keyhole Route. The other thing that plays into how we respond is the severity of the injury, often what we do first is we send a hasty group to go and assess the situation. And what we mean by a hasty team is a group Rangers basically moving very quickly they might have very light packs so they can get up to the patient as quickly as possible and assess their condition. We also rely on people that might be bystanders for information, but often cell service is not reliable in the park. If they can get a good signal they can help us assess the situation, the severity of the injury and how we might respond. I hasty team first arrives on the scene assesses the person's injury and the severity of it, based on that information that is how we are going to respond. Sometimes we'll bring a flight for life helicopter in. We also talk with local hospitals to see if they have a helicopter available. The flip side of that is whether the weather conditions allow us to fly in. Sometimes people's expectations are if they are hurt in the backcountry were going to pluck them out and get them to a hospital in a matter of minutes or hours that's rarely the way it happens when you're miles and miles in the backcountry. Are there any safety tips you would like to share so future hikers don't get injured? Absolutely, the biggest thing people do is bring their common sense with them, it's amazing how many people forget to bring that with them when they go out hiking in the park. Particularly focusing on the Keyhole Route, there are those who believe that it is just a hike. They need to realize that it is 7.5 mile climb to the summit of Longs Peak. The last 1.5 miles by far is the most difficult. So some people get to the sixth mile and their fatigued or they're reacting adversely to the high-altitude, and they have summit fever and say they're only a mile and a half away from the summit, that space be the toughest miles I have left, the most exposure, the most physically demanding. People need to continue to check in with themselves and see how they're feeling, and enjoy the experience along the way, rather than thinking they have to summit. Another thing is to listen to how their body is reacting to the high-altitude, people react differently and has nothing to do with fitness level. Fluids are key, make sure you have lots of food and fluids along the way. Physical ability and common sense will help you survive your Longs Peak climb. We encourage people to not hike alone. If something happens you'll need someone with you to assist you. A lot of it comes down to making good decisions internally and if you prepared yourself for the climb, mentally, physically, and gear wise.
That is some great information Kyle, thanks for coming out and talking with us. Thank you Morgan.
(calm background music)
Estes Park HS students, Jennifer and Reagan, take you on a Hike to Calypso Cascades. Learn about the 10 essentials that all hikers should carry and discover one of the most beautiful spots in Rocky Mountain NP.
- Credit / Author:
- Estes Park HS Students
- Date created:
Hi my name is Jennifer, and I am Reagan, and today we're going to take you on a hike to Calypso Cascades, but first we're going to go over a quick overview of what to pack and what not to when hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
All right we are here with Kathy Brown, who is the East District Naturalist of Rocky Mountain National Park, and there are some certain things that you should take with you when you're hiking and they’re called the 10 essentials. What are the 10 essentials? First thing we want everyone to have is a first aid kit, and should be ready to handle everything from a skinned finger to a little bit more extensive injury, so you want to pack a good first aid kit, know what's in it, and know how to use it. The second essential is matches, and I'm not going to carry a book of matches I got at the restaurant downtown, I carry them in a waterproof container, and I dipped these matches in wax. When I scratch it to light, it scratches through the wax, and light the match, but the wax will protect it from moisture. So two protections. Another is raingear or shelter. I fold them up nice and small in the pack. Because one of the biggest dangers in the backcountry is getting wet. If you get wet and cold that's when hypothermia comes in, and that's when you have to worry about that. I always carry extra water, the water I plan to drink and one extra container just in case I need it. I always bring sunscreen and know that I have Chapstick. You also need to have a flashlight, and extra batteries. These little things will help save your life in the backcountry. Thank you Kathy. Thanks for having me.
(Background noise of water rushing) Now you're prepared, let's go on a hike to Calypso Cascades! Come on! The hike to Calypso Cascades is an easy to moderate hike, with a wide trail that's accessible to the whole family. It is one of the park's most unique hikes because it follows a river almost the entire way, and provides breathtaking views of water features and scenery. The one challenging part of the hike is near the top at a long flight of steps, but even people who do not hike much should not have any trouble. Well, we’re 1.8 miles up the trail and here we are at our destination, Calypso Cascades. It's a great place to sit, relax, and enjoy the view, but don't just take our word for it here's what some other hikers have to say. How did you like the hike? Oh we loved it! Really gets your heart pumping and scenery is beautiful, gorgeous waterfalls. Would you recommend this hike to other people? Absolutely! Definitely bring a bunch of water, yeah it's been fun! Well it's been pretty fun here at Calypso Cascades here in Rocky Mountain National Park. But now it's time for the very best part, and we all know what that is - hiking down!
Well that's all the time we have for today, as always we’re the daring dynamic diva duo of doom, and we want you to go take a hike! For more information on the 10 essentials or to learn more about family friendly hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park please visit us on the web. (Music)
Winter and spring are great times to hike in Rocky Mountain NP. The air is brisk and the trails are almost empty. Join Estes Park High School Students, Jennifer and Reagan, as they take you on one of the great spring hikes in the park.
- Credit / Author:
- Estes Park HS Students
- Date created:
Gem Lake Podcast Script
Hi, my name is Reagan, and I’m Jennifer.
And today, we’re going to take you on a hike up to Gem Lake.
As you can see, it’s not typical summer weather here; it’s April, and we’re going on a spring hike.
There are some extra supplies and precautions to take, so let’s check in with a park official to get the details.
So today we’re here with Holly Nickel, she’s an education technician for the park. What are the benefits of spring and winter hiking versus summer?
A couple of the benefits for hiking in the winter and spring are going to be things like there are less people in the park, so it’s going to be more of an intimate experience you’re going to get to have. You’re going to get the chance to see a side of Rocky that, quite frankly, looks quite different than when you’re hiking in the summer.
Well, when you hike, you also have to have the 10 essentials with you. When you hike in the spring, is there anything extra you should bring besides those?
So when you’re hiking in the spring you do for sure want to have your 10 essentials, but there are, I would say, a few extra essentials you want to make sure you’re having if you’re hiking in the winter or the spring. One of those is going to be extra warm clothes, and that’s going to include extra socks. You want to make sure in case the weather does turn, you’re going to be prepared, and be able to put layers on and take layers off as far as how the temperature is ranging for the day. I always think, it’s also a great idea, especially if you’re hiking in the winter, to carry snowshoes with you. Now, also, you should always have with you Yak Traks as well. This is going well into the spring, because our trails higher up are still melting.
So, we’re trying to gear our podcasts towards more families, so that they can have just an intimate experience as an experienced mountaineer in the winter. So what are your favorite winter and spring hikes?
One of my favorites is going to Cub Lake, and going to the Pool as well, so kind of going out of that area. But then really, for families, going around any of the lakes can be a really nice option.
During the spring, our weather varies a lot here, and sometimes the weather that we have in Estes is different from the weather that’s up in the park. If you’re in the park, where can you go to find out weather details like that?
You know, that’s a great question, and I really want to stress that, for anybody, whether you are local or coming from afar, or coming up to spend the day in Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure to stop at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center first. We have lovely desk rangers in there that are going to have updated information about weather, about trail conditions, and so really any of the questions you could have they’ll be able to answer.
Well thank you very much Holly!
Yeah, I encourage everybody to get out there, enjoy the Park!
Now that we’re prepared, we’re ready to hike—come on!
The hike up to Gem Lake is an easy hike that weaves through beautiful Lumpy Ridge. Perfect for families and less experienced visitors to the park, this is a hike that is just as fulfilling in the winter as in the summer. The sheer cliffs and panoramic views of the Continental Divide and Estes Valley are some of its’ defining features, as is Paul Bunyan’s Boot, a unique rock formation you pass on the trail. Gem Lake is one of the most heavily traveled trails in the summer, so hiking it in the spring is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy it in a more intimate way.
Here we are, 1.7 miles up the Lumpy Ridge Trail, at our destination, Gem Lake.
It’s a beautiful glacial lake, and a wonderful destination in the spring and summer. Not convinced? Check out what these other hikers had to say!
How was your hike today?
It was pretty good! I like it. It’s not too steep or anything. There’s one spot where there are some high steps, but it was over pretty quick. It’s just so beautiful, you know, with the snow, and when you get up to the lake, it’s just kind of cool. Because you have the lake and…
So, how did you like the hike?
I loved it. It was very nice.
Do you like hiking in the snow?
Oh yeah, as long as it’s not too heavy.
Do you think this hike would be good for families with children to come on?
Oh absolutely, yeah, I think it’s very safe. There are a few places like this, where you have to walk through the water, but kids don’t mind.
Now that you’re persuaded, come check out Gem Lake.
Now it’s time for everybody’s favorite part, and we all know what that is: Hiking Down!
Well, that’s all the time we have for today. As always, we’re D5—the Daring, Dynamic, Diva Duo of Doom, and we want you to go take a hike!