Watersheds and Macro-invertebrates in Gothic, CO

Emerald Connection: September 26th, 2023

By: Sophie Coolidge

After multiple replays of “I Want It That Way” at maximum volume, navigating numerous twists and turns on the road, and taking a short walk to the Continental Divide Trail on Cottonwood Pass, the 6th graders finally arrived in the breathtaking town of Gothic, CO. As the clouds and rain dissipated, revealing the imposing Gothic Mountain, we settled into our new home for the upcoming week and embarked on a night hike, listening intently for the distant howls of coyotes.

Our first day of programming began with an activity that would send shivers down most teachers’ spines: we crumpled paper into unrecognizable shapes. Upon carefully unfolding the paper, we discovered that each of us had created a unique raised relief map with distinct creases and contours. After marking summits and ridges, we gently sprayed water onto the paper. This experiment symbolized the theme of our week: exploring the concept of a watershed.

During our hike to Judd Falls, we encountered a variety of spruce and fir trees, pausing occasionally to measure their crown size, diameter at breast height (which we affectionately referred to as “Genevieve height” since it matched one of our team members perfectly), and the health of their needles, all for RMBL’s research database. In the afternoon, we had the privilege of meeting the highly anticipated billy barr (who intentionally spells his name in lowercase, not a typo). We posed important questions, ranging from “How have you observed changes in snow over your 50 years of data collection in Gothic?” (notably, an increase in water content) to “What’s your favorite movie?” (to which he responded, “The Princess Bride”). At the end of a fulfilling day, we went to bed, thoroughly exhausted but content (at least, the leaders did).

Over the next two days, our focus shifted from the geographical aspects of a watershed to its water quality. Through scientific comparisons, we assessed the health of two different rivers by examining factors such as pH levels, oxygen content, turbidity, temperature, and the biodiversity of macroinvertebrates (which involved some hands-on encounters with slimy bugs). In between river tests, we had enlightening discussions with drone scientists and experts in invasive species to better understand the intricate connections between technology, natural science, and human impact.

For our culminating project, each of us selected topics related to the watershed that we felt passionately about, using this knowledge to create advocacy trifolds promoting the well-being of the watershed and its inhabitants. Our evenings were filled with campfire stories, s’mores, and imaginative scenarios on paper plates, envisioning the future endeavors of the 6th graders, which ranged from Barbie underwater real estate moguls to tenured philosophy professors and even heroic parkour dog rescues by our beloved alter ego, Angry-a.

We arrived in Gothic with eager eyes and open hearts, ready to absorb knowledge, and departed as dedicated watershed warriors, budding scientists, and passionate advocates for the places we hold dear and value deeply.

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