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Proposed River Science Course for CCHS

Linn and Judy Van Norman purchased 675 acres south of Cañon City back in 1997. In 2007, this ranch was placed in a conservation easement held by San Isabel Land Protection Trust. It spans roughly 2 miles of Oak Creek and supports a diverse habitat including bear, lion, elk, turkey, and more.

Excitingly, the Van Norman's are committed to improving the health and sustainability of their lands. Field visits have identified several opportunities to improve wildlife habitat, stream function and health, and forest health. However, immediate threats to this stretch of river include degraded and incised Oak Creek, juniper encroachment of meadows and riparian spaces, juniper density and undergrowth in ponderosa pine (creating fire hazards), eroding gullies, and hydrologic connectivity.

Some hopes the Van Normans hold are to enhance cottonwood regeneration along Oak Creek and to improve forage production for both domestic livestock, wildlife, and ponderosa pine.

Education is at the heart of the Van Norman's desires, as they wish to provide our youth with meaningful land stewardship experience and to create a local exemplar of effective management. Thus, they are proposing this land becomes an outdoor classroom/lab for students to have immediate and long-term hands-on education experiences from which to build capstone projects.

Every day our students are apt to ask the question, "when are we ever going to use this?" A project such as this would allow for an answer, "in about 10 minutes, once we get to the river."

This proposal comes on the tail of a 2018-2019 school year experience where River Science partnered with Cañon City High School's environmental sciences class guided by Carrie Trimble and a Biology class taught by David Laughlin. Teachers focused curriculum on an impactful community project, allowing students to take four trips to the Hayden Pass burn area where water was collected, the quality was tested, and macroinvertebrate counts were conducted to identify the post-fire condition of five tributary creeks and the Arkansas River itself. The end product was a deeply engaging learning experience for students that made an actual difference to the community!

During the 2019-2020 school year, CCHS science classes will continue this Hayden Pass work. However, this project would expand their learning opportunities to the Van Norman property. Most important, it offers a chance to test and actually quantify the success of river restoration techniques.

The River Science class is proposed to begin during the 2020 school year. Our goal is to conduct a series of process-based restorations of the riparian area, to conduct proper monitoring, and to document its impacts.

Why do this? The process of river restoration is in dire need of cost-effective solutions that improve the physical, chemical, biological health, and general function of rivers. Unfortunately, most projects being done do not include monitoring, and most fail to document whether actual improvement occurred. How will we ever know what techniques are successful if we do not monitor and document impacts?

Our proposal intends to follow this process:
* Year 1: Data collection will be conducted to assess baseline conditions. This will include a stream survey, vegetation survey, and groundwater assessment.
* Year 2: Students will continue to collect water data and start planning improvement projects.
* Year 3: Data collection will continue and students will construct improvement projects.
* Year 4: Improvement projects will be completed and impact monitoring will begin.
* Year 5 and beyond: Students will continue to monitor project impacts, evaluating their success.

This Van Norman property project will have immediate benefits to our local education processes, our community, and will improve our natural resources. Because the Arkansas River feeds Canon City's lifestyle, economics, and culture, I believe through research and effective river restoration, we'll give our students an opportunity to ensure our greatest asset is sustained and thriving long into the future.

How can you help? Mr. Javernick is seeking donations to support student travel to and from the Van Norman property during the 2020-21 school year. If you are interested in supporting this project simply contact the Cañon City Schools district office at 719-276-5700.