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Colorado National Monument received a $5,000 youth grant from the national retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). The "Gearing Kids Up For the Great Outdoors" grant was designed to give local youth the opportunity to camp as an extension to their annual environmental education field trip to the monument. This grant provided a way to show local youth that they don't have to travel far to camp, see wildlife, or visit a National Park Service site. The great outdoors is in their backyards.
Teachers from Mesa County Valley School District 51 will now have the opportunity to check out camping gear from the park on a reservation basis. The free gear loan program will provide local students with first hand experiences to embrace the outdoor environment that Colorado National Monument has to offer.
Last Thursday, on a crisp fall afternoon, 78 fourth graders from Pomona Elementary School set up camp in the Saddlehorn Campground. Later, as the sun set on the horizon, the students participated in a cookout, campfire sing-along, made s'mores, went on a night hike, and settled in for a starry night.
Early in the morning, the bright-eyed 4th graders came running for hot chocolate. After eating breakfast and breaking down camp, the students headed to the Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead for a ranger-guided hike to the base of Independence Monument. Along the way, they learned about weathering and erosion, wildlife, and native plant species found in the monument. Soon after leaving the trailhead, the students spotted 18 desert bighorn sheep, numerous lizards, and two golden eagles soaring above. These firsthand encounters with wild creatures and camping for the first time remain the highlights for the trip: a rare experience that only a trip into the great outdoors can provide.
Today, the biggest limiting factor to taking students camping is not having the proper gear and funding for bus transportation. This grant made it possible to outfit the entire group with camping gear, fund bus transportation, and provide food for the excursion.
"We are so grateful to REI for their continued and active support of educational endeavors at the monument. We are just thrilled to be able to give local students the opportunity to discover, explore, and experience the great outdoors here at Colorado National Monument," says Joan Anzelmo, superintendent at Colorado National Monument.