It’s hard to believe that we have just wrapped up our sixth week of summer camps at Durango Nature Studies. Our “Junior Naturalist Field Camp” – a weeklong day camp for elementary-aged students – focused on “nature’s super powers” this past week.
We often equate “super powers” with weather, specifically natural disasters. I’ve lived in regions where earthquakes and hurricanes were commonplace, and I’ve been known to brag that natural disasters simply don’t occur in my native home. After the year we’ve just had, I’ve eaten my words. From wildfires to mudslides, record snow levels to record runoffs, nature has shown its power in several clear ways in our part of the world.
If you’ve had a chance to hike or bike in Hermosa Creek, or attempt to travel to any of the passes around Silverton, you have realized firsthand the strength of natural events over the past year. As friends and I have traveled to these areas, we’ve been mesmerized at the destruction. To see swaths of trees plowed over and splintered by a mass of sliding snow has been almost as surreal as it has been to see blackened acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed.
As I’ve trekked deeper into these areas, however, I’ve been equally mesmerized to see the power of nature in its resilience. Miraculously, not one structure was lost in the 416 Fire last summer, and the intensity of the fire was quite moderate overall, with only 3% of the 54,000 acres considered intensely burned. Hiking into Hermosa Creek reveals the patchwork of intensity from the fire, including areas that were virtually unscathed by flames. Even in the burn scars, you see evidence of nature healing itself.
Super powers don’t simply correspond with large events though, and many of these amazing feats go undetected by the casual passerby. Our campers learned about plant and animal species that survive extreme conditions in a variety of ways, including shutting down living processes and entering a dormant state to survive harsh conditions, emerging from their dormancy when conditions are ripe for reproduction and ultimate survival.
In the burn areas, many plant and animal species actually benefit from the fire, with aspen quickly taking advantage of clear space and abundant light to grow. Ponderosa pine cones will only release seeds during a fire, so while we sadly lost some magnificent old-growth trees in the fire, their sacrifice opens the door to future growth.
Our campers also learned about nature’s recyclers, which include scavengers, detritivores and decomposers. Evidence of this natural recycling is in abundance not only in the burn area but also in the avalanche zones. Wood-eating insects are already beginning work on trees felled and splintered in snowslides and the fires, too.
When you are out on your own adventures this summer – whether it’s trekking around downtown or deep in the backcountry somewhere – take a minute to look for and appreciate the power of nature – even in small ways.
Also, from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 10, plan to join Durango Nature Studies, the U.S. Forest Service, Trails 2000, Mountain Studies Institute and San Juan Mountain Association as we host the “Hermosa Restoration Project” at the Lower Hermosa Creek Campground.
Activities will include interpretive hikes through the burn scar, community service projects, including some trail work and restorative planting, as well as educational activities for all ages. For more information, visit, durangonaturestudies.org or our partner organizations’ websites.
Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.