I arrived in Summit County on the hunt for a trail. Not just any trail, I wanted to gain some elevation, see different types of trees and feel just how squishy the mud was. I wanted a consistent 5-mile run that would take me though the seasons until the snow was too deep and I was strapping on cross country skis. The trail I was looking for would help me recognize the seasonal progression of the Rocky Mountain slopes in Keystone.
With the thousands of acres of open space and hundreds of miles of trails in Summit County it doesn’t require one to look far, I found the perfect trail just behind my house. On my first adventure up the Soda Ridge and aqueduct trail I made note of the abundance of purple Aster, flowering yellow rabbit brush and an enormous amount of bright red Rose Hip. After noticing water in the beaver dams I looked down to find a few dog tracks in fresh mud, evidence there had been a couple of rainy weeks.
Running down the same trail over the past few months has given me a window into the community while I stretch my legs as a naturalist. Simply put, I get to watch things change and every day I gain a better understanding of what is really in our forest. In this little neck of the woods, I’m able to see the various ways people manage the land. From the golf course to the National Forest to private land owners, there are clear delineations drawn on the forest floor for a variety of uses. Running down the Keystone Gulch road, I have witnessed weeks when there are ribbons of bike tires and the pot holes grow deeper. Recently I’ve been most aware of the flocculating water levels and freezing pools in the creek. Things are changing for the winter and running these trails incorporates it into my everyday life.
Now with the dark aspen leaves rotting on the ground or resting on the snow, I am able to stop focusing solely on the pines and spruces and recognize that I am not the only one using these trails. As I look closer I recognize the prints of Merrell shoes, fat mountain bike tires and various dog prints in the mud and snow. Sometimes I even get to see the occasional biker zipping down the trail or family slowly inspecting the things I’ve come to expect along the side. As the sun is setting earlier in the afternoon, despite the sound of Highway 6 and the view of the golf course, it is easy to forget that this is everyone’s trail. Seeing people reminds me that we all have the opportunity to be developing naturalists whenever we step outside. We are constantly gaining information about the living things in our midst and how they are related to the changing weather and rocks under our feet.
I moved to Summit County because I feel it is a place where people want their children to walk trails in the mountains and develop an understanding for what grows around them. Working at Keystone Science School gives me the opportunity to talk about these little changes in plants and seasons every day. But what I don’t always tell my students is that I too am curious about the seasons at high elevation and want to understand the living world around me.
Sabrina Freedman is a Program Instructor at Keystone Science School. For more information on Keystone Science School, give us a call at (970) 468-2098 or visit www.KeystoneScienceSchool.org.