Welcome to the Dell Ranch Environmental Center at Brook N’ Dell Virtual Village
Our Environmental Center provides resources to learn more about the great outdoors and be involved. This is also a tool for parents and teachers to find resources for add environmental activities for their children as well as be able to plan family outings.
Click on this banner to read Dave’s Blog
Visit The Mountain Environmental Center and Dave Van Manen in Beulah Colorado. Here is a link to his site and his blog. Just click on Dave’s Pictures below to Mountain Park Environmental Center and Dave’s blog as well.
Listen to Dave’s Interview on our “In the Moment” Blog Talk Radio Broadcast
entitled “Protecting our Children and Our Selves from Nature Deficit Disorder” with Dave Van Manen.
During the interview he shares information from 3 essays he has written. You will find the 3 essays in their entirety below. We thank Dave for his vision and love of the land and the people who inhabit this beautiful land we call “Our Planet.” Join Dave and many others in preserving our land making sure we educate our children by introducing them to the unlimited treasures it holds for all of us in terms of art, animals, beauty, serenity, music, and a place to belong at one with our connection to this unbelievable place we can each call our home.
Landscape and Mindscape
A hot day has driven me to the shady north-facing hillside that overlooks the Devil’s Canyon Trail. This is an ecosystem of tall dense Douglas firs and white firs, a cool refuge from a relentless sun. The forest floor is exceptionally green thanks to prolific April snows. Sun-dappled grasses, ferns, tree seedlings, and a few flowering plants – sugarbowl, fleabane, chickweed, false Solomon’s seal – are a giant multi-textured quilt embracing me on this midday saunter.
I am not alone on this cool hillside. From the trees a pair of western tanagers sound as if they are talking to each other. “I’m here, where are you?” “I’m over here, where are you?” Back and forth they converse. And there is a flycatcher, a red-breasted nuthatch, and an Audubon’s warbler. A small spider takes a short walk across my leg before returning to the blade of grass from which it came. A tiger swallowtail butterfly teases me with occasional glimpses as it flits about in search of nectar like a drunk in fast motion. No doubt, there also are larger animals nearby – deer, maybe a bear – comforted as I am by this shady hillside.
This land has become a part of me – I have inhaled molecules of oxygen that have literally come out of these trees and these plants – and I have become a part of this land. Carbon from my exhalations is used by these green plants to grow, to become more of themselves. This land and I share more than just the physical. I am reminded of words by Barry Lopez, “The interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes.” Lopez speaks eloquently of how the quality of a person’s thoughts is, as David Orr puts it, a “merger of landscape and mindscape.”
This is why so many people turn to the outdoors to recreate and, by default or by design, to think. We walk, we jog, we hike, we fish, we hunt, we saunter – and we often do some of our best thinking outside. This is why I always try to do much of my writing outdoors, as my thinking and, hence, my words, are as influenced by where I am as by anything else.
And this is why there is a Mountain Park Environmental Center. As an educator, I cannot do anything about my students’ genes, but it is the “exterior landscape” of students’ educational experiences that I can do something about.
I hear the voices – and now the footsteps – of a group of MPEC campers hiking down the Devil’s Canyon Trail, completing the Northridge Trail loop. It pleases me that the diverse ecosystems of Pueblo Mountain Park are becoming a part of these young people’s interior landscapes. For many, I know, it is their first exposure to what could be called “wild Nature.” I can hear in their voices that this experience is fun for them, as summer camp should be. It is also vitally important to them, as an exterior landscape of only man-made landscapes is not only sad, but dangerous. Dangerous to their selves because the natural world offers so much to people’s health and happiness. And dangerous to the land, because a people brought up without experiencing Nature first-hand will never grow up to advocate for the land. We protect what we love, and we love what we know.
Veteran District 60 teacher Diane Stewart recently wrote about the experience of her students in our Earth Studies program, “I have heard my students say that they will never just walk through a forest again without thinking of the life that is under their feet and surrounding them in the trees. They have a respect for nature now and know that it is up to them to preserve what they have. The learning that has taken place will not just be for this year but for a lifetime.” ~ June 8, 2004
1An Unfinished Story
All the flowers of all tomorrows are in the seeds of today. A weighty thought, this Chinese proverb, as I head for the shade of a huge ponderosa pine for a bit of respite from the hot sun on this afternoon hike up the Mace Trail. The size of the tree distracts me. Easily 150 years old. That would put its earliest years of life as pre-Civil War.
If this tree could talk, would it have stories! Like the one about a Ute hunting party that camped nearby when it was only twenty feet tall. Or the one about a young grizzly bear that rubbed its back against the tree’s 40-year-old bark. Or the last wolf howls it ever heard on a cold snowy night almost a hundred years ago. If this tree could talk, it might tell of the enthusiastic voices of people who walked through these woods in 1920 as they talked about plans for a place called Pueblo Mountain Park. Or the CCC crews of young men who found work carving out the new park’s foot trails in the 1930s, and the excitement in the voices of so many young people who hiked those trails in the many decades that followed. Ah, the stories this tree could tell.
Old trees like this one may someday tell the story about how these young excited voices began to disappear from these woods when children stopped spending much time outside in Nature. A trend began in the last few decades of the twentieth century, the story would go, when young people preferred being “plugged in” to being outside. At the same time, childhood rates of obesity, depression and attention disorders began to climb, some to crisis levels. That’s the beginning of the story. The end of the story hasn’t been written yet.
As I started this hike, I passed a group of MPEC campers playing in the creek. Several were building a dam, two or three were looking closely at something in the water, and one was squealing for a reason I couldn’t decipher. This, I thought, is how kids ought to be spending a hot summer afternoon. Which is what got me thinking about that proverb.
And this. At a meeting I attended yesterday, a veteran biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) talked of the serious lack of interest among young people in working for the CDOW. Not that long ago, he said, 1000 applications would come in for 15 new positions a year. This year, only 68 applied. Only 8 of the 15 positions were filled due to most applicants being unqualified.
Lack of interest in and qualifications for natural resources employment. Lack of outdoor time among children. Another twist in the trees’ unfinished story. If the current trends continue, it one day may be decided to eliminate wildlife biologists altogether. A hint of one way the story could go. But there is another way.
If all the flowers of all tomorrows are in today’s seeds, then the entire future of flowers lies in today’s seeds, so they must be treated with the utmost care. If we care about all the children of all tomorrows, and if we care about the Earth, then we must treat the children, and the Earth, with the utmost care. Aldo Leopold talked of “the seed of the love of nature” that is in all people. We owe it to our children, and to the Earth, to reverse these dangerous trends and do whatever it takes to nurture “the seed of the love of nature” in ALL children – by getting them outside to experience Nature’s lessons and wonders and adventures, to learn to bond with and love the natural world.
Then the trees’ unfinished story could end with the excited voices of children once again filling the woods. And those who really learn how to listen to the stories of these old trees may even hear them whisper the wisdom of Walt Whitman, “Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” ~ July 24, 2007
Turning “The” Into “Our”
I just returned from a fantastic float-trip down the Green River in SE Utah. Though the water was low, it was still a magical journey full of beautiful landscapes, good friends, and lots of time to just look around and think. I was reminded of how valuable spending time in Nature can be in giving folks a break from the stresses of our busy lives. Seldom did I think about the park closure, upcoming meetings, or the many other challenges of running MPEC during these dry times. My primary intention for the trip was to relax and flow with the river. And that I did!
My secondary intention was to learn more about the ecology of this section of the Colorado plateau. With limited first-hand experience in these desert ecosystems, I spent much of my time comparing what I saw to what I am most familiar with – the ecosystems of Pueblo Mountain Park. The similarities were many, but not surprising, as there are many desert-like qualities to our mountain park in Beulah.
Where Rocky Mountain junipers are an important food-producing tree here in the park, Utah juniper is the common juniper in the shrublands along the Green. Both trees produce small cones, or “berries,” that feed many species of birds and small mammals in their respective places. This is known as “ecologically equivalent” – different species serving similar ecological roles in different ecosystems. Some of these trees appeared to be many hundreds of years old, maybe older. I saw almost no Gambel oak, so prevalent in the park. But I became very familiar with the scraggly leaves of greasewood. And the rabbitbrush, some already in bright yellow flowers, reminded me of places around the Greenway and Nature Center in Pueblo.
Along with many great blue herons, a few raptors, and some Canada geese, the most frequently spotted birds were sandpipers, flycatchers and cliff swallows (munching on bugs every evening). Among the mammals seen were desert bighorns, a couple of gigantic beavers, and a very cool herd of wild horses. The fresh mountain lion track and older bear tracks near one night’s camp had us overly attentive to every sound that night. I saw only one snake – a very long garter snake – and about a million lizards.
After the rather difficult task of leaving the river – most of us were not ready for the trip to end – we took an hour-long bus ride back to Moab. After a few minutes winding through a hot, treeless, shrubless landscape, we rounded a bend and a lovely view of the river came into full view. I immediately thought, “There’s my river.” Just as this thought registered, I heard a young girl say to her Dad, “There’s our river.” Then I heard another voice on the bus say the same thing. Then another. I was struck with what I was hearing. These words indicated the sense of ownership that took place during those five days on this slow-moving murky river. Prior to this trip, the Green River was a squiggly blue line on a map. Now, for me, and, apparently several others, the Green has become something dear to us, something that is a part of us.
After several days thinking on this, I realize, once again, how vitally important it is for people to have opportunities to get to know a landscape – a river, a mountain, a forest, a park – deeply. Knowledge of and connection with the land is the foundation of a sense of ownership and stewardship of that land. And now, I am ready to be back at my work, because this is what we do here at the MPEC – provide opportunities for our community to know, connect with, and ultimately become stewards of this park, these ecosystems, these places – our places! ~ Aug 19, 2002