The third day of SAFE BASE’s excursion to Colorado was one of transition — by way of road and rail.
The students had time to sleep in and then enjoy the morning of their final day in Rocky Mountain National Park. Their journey thus far had taken them from Iola to the rivers of alpine basins, to ridges scraping the skyline of the Rocky Mountains.
“And it’s only going to get better,” SAFE BASE student Sam Terhune said.
Several of the students filed their way over to the ranger station in Moraine campground, where they took their final step in the junior park ranger program — being sworn in. “Ranger Katie,” as the students referred to her, had them raise their right hands and repeat the junior ranger oath:
“As a junior ranger, I promise to help protect Rocky Mountain National Park, my neighborhood parks and all other natural areas by taking care of the environment. I will help keep wildlife wild by not feeding animals. I will help protect plants by not picking them. I will help keep parks beautiful by placing trash in recycling bins or trash bins. I will enjoy nature safely and be a good example to others.”
The students’ eyes lit up as Ranger Katie passed out their badges. They may have been plastic in actuality, but to the students they were gold.
The next leg of the journey took the group south and west, through the heart of the mountains. After stopping at a park in in the quaint riverside community town, the buses then pulled into Silver Plume to ride the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad.
“It was really cool, I had never been on a train before,” students Sara Barbarick and Kaitlyn Smutz said in agreement.
The puffs of black smoke caught the students’ attention as the engine pulled around the bend. The conductor yelled “All aboard!” much to the satisfaction of the kids.
“I knew he’d say it,” one student called out.
They filed onto the train and the engine let out a long whistle. The large iron wheels began to turn and the train wound along down the tracks with students peering over the side, along the valley of Clear Creek. The water level was four feet above normal, due to snow melt, which led to some spectacular views of rapids.
From Georgetown, the buses drove southwest to the campground outside of Leadville. The highest city in America, Leadville is perched at 10,152 feet above sea level. The campground is nestled in an outcropping of pines, in a large meadow carved out by the Arkansas River.
The students then enjoyed a meal catered by friends of Angela Henry, SAFE BASE director.
AS THE STUDENTS prepared for their much-needed showers (one of their two for the entire week), some of the staff had a chance to sit down and reflect on the trip thus far.
Chase Vaughn, a senior at the University of Kansas, has been working at SAFE BASE on and off since high school, and has worked at the last two summer programs.
“Compared to Wichita and Hannibal, it is going a lot smoother,” he said of the students’ progress. Midweek, the group had become near-experts at camp cooking and setting up tents.
Kelsey Larson, a sophomore at Independence Community College, said she has been enjoying the sights and experiences nearly as much as the students.
“At first, I thought the activities were only going to be for the kids,” she said. “But I’ve actually enjoyed them too.”
She and her group, Barbarick, Smultz and Sidney Shelby, have grown close over the past few days. They sat together on the bench of the picnic table in the campground. They had written their leader a letter, showing their appreciation for her hard work and efforts.
“It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, seriously,” Larson said. “I actually teared up a little bit.”
She said she hopes to continue her studies in elementary education, and hopes her experience with SAFE BASE will only help her progress.
It seems like a blur after the first three days of our week-long excursion. Right now I am sitting in a large Victorian home in Leadville writing material for today’s Register.
Bob Hawk, Angela Henry’s father, drove me into town while filling me in on their experiences in America’s highest city. The Tabor Opera House (which the students will tour today) has been a focal point in their family’s, especially Angela’s, life over the past decade. They have been active in the restoration of the old theater.
This morning Angela, Mark Dunlap and I had hiked over to “The Scottage,” a century-old cabin owned by the extended family of Iola’s Susan Lynn. As Bob and I drove into town, he told me stories of William Allen White and Frederick Funston taking excursions down to their cabins in RMNP as well. I was gripped by the ties southeast Kansas has to such a remote area.
It made me realize that while Kansas does not have mountains and valleys on display, we have our people on display in Colorado. People like Frederick Funston, William Allen White and Emerson Lynn spent their time reflecting, relaxing and escaping in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and I believe Colorado is a better place for it.
Over the past few days, our youngest Kansans have made their footprint as well. Angela Henry, along with her staff, have done nothing but succeed over the first half of the trip, and have already changed the lives of their 68 students.