By Erin Flaherty, Coal Ridge High School student
Published in Glenwood Springs Post Independent 12/15/2018
Growing up in Colorado was a dream for me as a little kid. Bountiful forests and streams to play in, mud cakes to make, stick weapons used to wage war against my older siblings. The outdoors were (and still are) a second home to me. My relationship with nature has matured from messing around with bugs to seeking a career protecting the outdoors. I joined a water quality testing group, Colorado River Watch, and participate in community activities outside. While it may be more complicated now, gathering data in the field still means I can splash in streams!
This past year I had the privilege to be part of the with the Youth Water Leadership Program’s Summit Leader Team to assemble the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, which took place on November 15. The side of me that is still a child was thrilled when we went rafting as a team, and the more “adult” side was equally excited to talk about invasive species and droughts. Being a part of the Summit Leader Team not only gave me experience with the outdoors, but also let me take that experience and put it into a form that could be shared with others. I cannot take my colleagues with me when we analyze the quality of rivers, but I can take the information gathered and explain it to them. When I spoke at the Summit, I took my experiences with the Summit Leader Team, River Watch, and childhood to the stage.
But the Summit wasn’t about me. It was about everyone else there, and hearing their stories about how much they loved being outside and the contributions they had made to keep Colorado’s water healthy. The guest speakers, Sarah Porterfield of Tributaries Consulting LLC and Christa Sadler of This-Earth, told us about their experiences with rafting, outdoor education, and history. It was inspiring to watch them speak about conservation and recognizing the history of water, and from them I know that when I’m an adult, I can still enjoy the outdoors. In addition to the guest speakers, organizational booths were scattered around with representatives talking to kids. These organizations offered internships, summer programs, and activities aimed at teenagers. Similar to the guest speakers, they offered valuable insight for people looking for a future in the environment, biology, and chemistry fields. I can get a job that revolves around being outside or snag an internship that will take me into the heart of this region’s wilderness. Incredible, isn’t it? There’s no need to fulfill my nightmare of getting a desk job, suitable for some, but definitely not me. I and countless others who love the outdoors and science experienced, through the Summit, that there are ways to apply what we are passionate about to real life. The Summit gathered kids who were interested in the environment and showed us career paths we could take. I think it’s normal to grow up. It’s normal to have changing interests as we age. But at the same time, it isn’t a bad thing to love something for our entire lives. A childhood love of dinosaurs can lead to a career in paleontology, or a love of space can lead to a career in aeronautical engineering. Pursuing a path that started when I first climbed a tree has brought me to the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, and I hope it takes me to new people, new adventures, and new places to explore. I hope I can take what I learned from the Summit and the things I will learn in the future with me to help the environment of this planet. I’ve always loved being outside. Why not turn that love into something more?
Author Erin Flaherty attends Coal Ridge High School as a junior. She volunteers on a Colorado River Watch and has presented at the 2017 and 2018 Youth Water Summit.
By: Aidan Boyd, Coal Ridge High School Student
Published 12/14/18 as Letter to Editor in Aspen Daily News
Since I was a little kid, I’ve known I wanted to study the sciences. I always pictured myself in a lab coat, silently working away until I found a cure for cancer. I never understood the often gritty, behind-the-scenes jobs required for science to be useful. My freshman year I started on a simple citizen science project with my friends, collecting basic water quality data from Elk Creek for Colorado River Watch. I never thought about how this data could be used to educate or change the world. That is, until I was put into touch with Wild Rose Education’s Sarah Johnson and learned about the Youth Water Leadership Program.
The following year, 2017, my friends and I created an entire independent research project, educating a primarily up-valley audience about a New Castle stream and the issues that it faces. I had never really shared research outside of a school setting before, so it was terrifying. I stood on stage, petrified as an audience of people from local high schools as well as local environmental groups listened intently. But when I began to talk and saw their interest and engaged with them in their questions, I truly began to understand why involving citizens in science is so important. Without this event, youth from Aspen wouldn’t know about the impact of mining on a creek in New Castle. Without this event, I never would have known about issues upstream, facing the Roaring Fork Watershed.
In 2018, with my newfound confidence, I wanted to take it one step further and help organize the Summit. The work I did was not the lab coat and pipette sort of work science often gets portrayed as. Instead, it was calling keynote speakers, giving introductions, setting a master schedule, and figuring out water bottle designs, all of which were essential to allowing the data collected to be shared. I never really understood the fact that for every hour of scientific data collection, hundreds of hours of organization has to be put in to make the data meaningful.
I think this is something that more people going into the sciences need to understand: you could have the best designed study in the world that has the potential to completely revolutionize your field, but if you can’t communicate your thoughts or coordinate events like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, then you won’t be as successful. Often the lack of communication has to do with how science classes are taught. Too often science is purely in the classroom, with academic lectures and memorization. Of course factual scientific knowledge is important, but getting classes outside and engaging with their communities helps teach these skills, made more important by the Age of Misinformation we are in today. I truly hope that every student can have an experience like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit to truly appreciate the behind-the-scenes efforts so critical to making the world work.
Author Aidan Boyd is a junior at Coal Ridge High School. He has been on a Colorado River Watch for two years, and participated in the 2018 Youth Water Leadership Program. Additionally, he presented the talks "Elk Creek: Past, Present, and Future" (2017) and "South Canyon Development" (2018) in the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit.
By Will Hassel, Glenwood Springs Middle School Student
From the beginning of middle school, I have been involved in various teams and clubs that all have some connection to water. In 6th grade, half of the year was devoted to a unit on rivers. Nate Higginson, from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council took this opportunity to form a River Watch Club for Glenwood Springs Middle School. A couple of friends and I went out once a week to collect and analyze the water from streams near the school. The following year, I got to do a presentation at the first Youth Water Summit about Two Rivers Park and water quality there. I was interested in the program, so Rob Buirgy, the teacher who helped me with the presentation, gave me the information about the leader team.
I thought that the team would be composed of ten or so middle schoolers doing nothing and one adult that would do everything. I imagined that everything would be planned out, like a classroom lesson and that we would make minimal progress in a long span of time.
It turned out that there were many different ages of participants: 8th graders, high schoolers, and college interns. When we met in the fall to start planning for the summit, it felt like everyone had an idea to pitch in or a thought to share. It was super cool to see everyone come together.
I think that the main thing that I learned from this experience is that I have the power to do what I think is right. When I had an idea and participated in discussion, everyone listened and actually thought about my input. When I presented my group’s Lens on Climate Change film (Green Skis) at the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, there were a lot of strangers, as well as people that I knew that asked a lot of questions. These questions gave me a reason to think deeper about my topics, which allowed me to understand them better. Everyone in the room was watching, which proves that they care. Similarly, when I was watching other students’ presentations, I saw that they too were having an impact on everyone else in the room.
This was an amazing experience, and I think that it was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow.
Author Will Hassel served on the Youth Water Leadership Program's 2018 Summit Leader Team and is a student at Glenwood Springs Middle School in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.