On Becoming an Eagle Scout 

With a chilly breeze blowing and the peaks of Pennsylvania Mountain already snow covered we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at MALT's property to find a group of young men hard at work digging holes at the Pika Trail trailhead.  In retrospect we shouldn't have been surprised at all, as these teens are a dedicated group of Boy Scouts who were there to support their friend Cole Brazell in his quest to earn his Eagle Scout badge.

The rank of Eagle Scout is the highest achievement in the Boy Scouting program.  Only 4% of Boy Scouts across the country are granted this status after fulfilling years of requirements and a lengthy review process.

Fifteen year old Cole took a giant leap forward last weekend toward his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, when he, along with the assistance of other members and adult leaders of his Boy Scout Troop #238 from Bailey assembled and installed a wooden display kiosk for Mountain Area Land Trust (MALT) at our trailhead on Pennsylvania Mountain Natural Area located just west of Fairplay.

The Pika Trail sits at an elevation of approximately 11,500 feet.  The terrain is rugged, the weather is unpredictable and on Saturday, October 7th when Cole and his troop arrived to begin their work, there was 4 inches of snow on the ground.

Cole has been working with MALT for over a year, planning and designing the kiosk that he would eventually build and install.  He modeled his kiosk design after a U.S. Forest Service kiosk on a trail he frequents, and with the assistance of his family he purchased the lumber, carriage bolts, paint stain and other supplies and tools to begin assembling the display.

Cole worked for many months building and prepping the kiosk parts in pieces which he would eventually transport to the trailhead site for assembly and installation. 

Nine young men ranging in age from 13 to 17 showed up to help Cole on his big day.  Some of them worked alongside Cole constructing the kiosk while the others had the unenviable job of digging six deep post holes in the rock laden, semi-frozen ground.
The boys approached the tasks at hand with enthusiasm, a sense of humor and determination to help Cole finish his job.  They played music, told jokes and worked hard for hours supporting Cole in his endeavor to get the kiosk built and installed.  Andrew Puseman, Senior Patrol Leader for Troop #238 told us that out of the 40 boys on the troop roster, 5 other young men are also currently working on Eagle Scout projects and he personally attained his Eagle Scout rank in May of 2016.  
Chris Barrow, Eagle Scout candidate Cole Brazell and Andrew Puseman assembling the kiosk.

At the end of a long day, Cole and his friends proudly posed in front of the newly constructed kiosk. Cole is happy and gratified that this part of his project is complete, and while he still has a number of requirements left before he officially becomes an Eagle Scout, having the kiosk done is exciting.  "It feels so good to have it completed.  I really like the Pika Trail and have hiked it twice.  Knowing that the kiosk is important to MALT's project is exciting to me personally.  The process of becoming an Eagle Scout has taught me a lot - I know that I need to be organized, and that my Eagle project is more about leadership than actually finishing the project.  I wasn't there just to do all the work.  I built alongside the younger scouts, teaching them skills, and I think they learned something which was fun to see."

Cole has not only demonstrated the leadership skills required by the Boy Scouts to attain the Eagle Scout rank, but he and his troop have also shown their dedication to being stewards of the land, by supporting our efforts to conserve and share the unique high alpine environment of Pennsylvania Mountain. We at MALT are grateful to Cole for his exemplary efforts in building a beautiful new kiosk for the Pika Trail.  

Together we are saving the land and leaving a legacy.

Bugs, Bruises and Bad Weather

She stands 5 feet tall, weighs 100 pounds, and at 27 years old is one tough young woman.

Meet Samantha, (aka "Sam"), MALT's 2017 Land Steward.

Sam is a Forester.  She grew up in Ohio and since college has lived and worked in Maine, Vermont and Louisiana.  The call of the mountains and the lure of a cooler climate brought Sam to Colorado in 2017 to pursue her dream of a career in conservation.

Working as a Land Steward and monitoring (i.e. hiking, climbing, driving and surveying) all of MALT's 72 Conservation Easements in the span of a four month time period is no small undertaking.  Most of the time Sam works alone, using her maps, binders and a GPS program on an IPad to monitor property.  The work is often physically challenging, and Sam learned the hard way that accuracy and thoroughness are essential to the job, when she had to hike back up to the top of a mountain and take a photo that she missed.
Sam says she really enjoys the work, especially learning and identifying Colorado flora and fauna and native versus invasive plants.   She doesn't mind working alone, but also welcomes the company and enjoys showing fellow hikers the sweet wax currant and penny cress that you can eat, and the showy milkweed that smells like roses.  Her excitement about trees, plants and wildlife is contagious.
When asked if she felt unsafe or scared while monitoring, Sam admits, "Sometimes the prospect of a lurking mountain lion is definitely unnerving and I've had the feeling that something is hunting me."   Sam has stumbled on "boneyards" near rocky outcroppings that give her the distinct feeling that she's in mountain lion territory.  "I walk quickly and spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder and scanning the horizon."

Sam has self-instituted some additional safety measures for herself, always wearing a bright orange vest, making sure to introduce herself to anyone she meets while visiting properties, dressing appropriately with hiking boots and long pants and keeping her GPS and IPhone charged. 

Bruises, bugs and bad weather are part of the job and Sam shrugs off these occasional inconveniences saying, "I love my work and wouldn't trade my summer with MALT for anything."   Sam is tough, passionate and inspired by the landowners she's met.  "Talking to property owners who love their land is so encouraging to me personally...it gives me hope for the future of Colorado and land conservation."

Sam is a hardworking member of MALT's team and a great example of someone who is saving the land and leaving a legacy.

Never Eat Soggy Waffles

On a beautiful Friday morning in June, a big yellow school bus pulled up to the entrance of Floyd Hill Open Space, opened its doors and dropped a large group of excited 11 and 12 year old boys and girls.  Friday's are especially exciting for them as it's field trip day for these Denver YMCA summer campers, and today's adventure was a hike in the mountains.

Through the generosity of a "Connecting Youth" grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), MALT is leading hikes for underserved Denver metro area middle school kids on its newest conserved property on Floyd Hill Open Space in Clear Creek County. 

Our young hiker friends exhibited a range of emotions as they descended from their bus and filled their brand new MALT water bottles in anticipation of the adventure ahead.

"Are there snakes?"

"I'm scared of mice and I just saw one!"

"Do we have to walk up?"

"I'm hot...and hungry....When do we get lunch?"

Our trip began with a walk across the meadow, and our leaders Samantha (MALT's Land Steward) and Kevin (MALT's Seasonal Intern) stopped to point out the wildflowers.  Indian Paintbrush was clearly a favorite with the girls, while the boys seemed to prefer the cactus.  Omar exclaimed "I've seen cactus at Texas Road House!  That's my favorite restaurant."   One of the quiet boys in the group asked if he could pick some flowers for his mom. 

The ascent up the mountain was tough for some of our novice campers who have never before hiked.  Our leaders encouraged the kids to smell the vanilla scented bark of the Ponderosa Pines, examine the sap of a newly fallen fir and listen to the quaking leaves of the Aspens.  When Samantha told the group that they could rub the white bark of the Aspen to use the powdery residue as sunscreen the enthusiastic campers quickly experimented with this newfound knowledge and painted their faces and arms.

The hikers learned how to identify scat, the rules for respecting nature, proper trail etiquette and how to use a compass.  The kids excitedly realized that the phrase they've been taught in school, "Never Eat Soggy Waffles" meant that they could understand and identify which direction they were facing, with the snowy mountains of James Peak Wilderness to the west, and their homes to the east.

Our friends sat in the meadow at the end of their adventure for "community circle."  Each camper was invited to say a rose (what they liked), a thorn (what they disliked) and a bud (what they learned).  Surprisingly most of the kids loved the "up" part of the hike but not the "down."  They particularly enjoyed learning the names of flowers and using the compass.  One girl reported that she almost died during her descent and another was certain she saw a bear, but overall we were happy to report that every camper survived and seemed to have a fun experience.

The Denver YMCA counselors shared that the Floyd Hill Open Space hiking experience was the best field trip they've had with their campers, saying that the energetic group has previously been asked to leave some of their museum visits.   One counselor stated, "Today has been my best day of work so far."

This beautiful summer Friday in June was truly a remarkable opportunity for all...together we are saving the land and leaving a legacy.

*Flowers were identified and admired but not picked. 

Interview with a MALT Landowner

In 1927, a visit to Bob Ostertag's family ranch in Bailey, Colorado was an all-day affair.  After church on Sunday, Bob's great-grandparents and their two children would load up the car and make the long drive up the hill from Denver to Park County to visit their property.   Dressed in their Sunday best, the family would enjoy a picnic in the meadow next to the rippling sounds of the South Platte River while enjoying the sweeping views of Mt. Bierstadt and the Chicago Peaks.

Fast forward 90 years and four generations, and Bob's family tradition of weekend visits to the 290 acre ranch continues.

 

As a young boy Bob recalls spending his weekends learning how to milk a cow, bale hay and mend fences by working alongside his parents and grandparents.  He remembers many days spent along the river having stick races and learning how to fish.  He vividly recounts his mother's insistence that every structure on the ranch have "red roofs and red trim" and the toil involved in painting all of them.  When Bob had a family of his own weekend trips to the ranch with his two daughters continued, as did the tradition of "red roofs and red trim," and many humorous family bonding experiences with OSHA approved safety red oil based paint.  Bob's girls spent their weekends with family learning about ranching, playing along the river, participating in 4-H and gaining an appreciation for their grandparent's passion for the land.

In 2001 Bob's mother's passed away, but her vision of "keeping the view forever" lives on.  In 2013 Bob and his family worked with MALT to put a Conservation Easement on the family ranch that honors his mother and her vision and traditions.  "The decision to place the land in conservation was an easy one.  It was important to us to honor my family's wishes to forever maintain the 'purity of the meadow' and mountain views, and to protect the wildlife habitat of the elk, deer, bear, mountain lions and all of the creatures that live in Mother Nature's neighborhood."

Bob's story is quintessentially Colorado - the story of a family legacy, working ranch and a love of the land passed from generation to generation.   Bob and his family are passionate about honoring the stewardship of this land by conserving a mile long stretch of mountain views, meadow and river for generations to come.


In 2016 Bob joined MALT's Board of Directors.  "I am a huge supporter of non-profits and MALT is an example of a great community organization that conserves the beauty and 'wow' factors in our state.  As a Conservation Easement landowner, a board member and a MALT donor I feel like I can give back and help create a legacy of land and water conservation, and honor mom's tradition."