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Open Space opens doors for young students in Telluride

 A first grade class gathered at The Pinhead Institute’s annual experiential education event, Valley Floor Day, in Telluride, Colorado on May 17, 2023.
Gavin McGough
A first grade class gathered at The Pinhead Institute’s annual experiential education event, Valley Floor Day, in Telluride, Colorado on May 17, 2023.

Sixteen years ago, Telluride residents made a commitment to preserve a vast meadow and marshland west of town known as the Valley Floor.

This February, the town of Telluride made its final payment on the bond to acquire and protect the open space, placing it securely in the hands of the community.

Recently, some of Telluride's youngest students visited the Valley Floor for a day of learning in both natural science and community spirit.

To the west of Mahoney Drive, where the town of Telluride gives way to the meadow and marshland of the Valley Floor, the Pinhead Institute’s Director Sarah Holbrooke is asking elementary school students what she says is a very important question: “Who owns the Valley Floor?”

“You!” guessed one first grader.

“Geez, I wish!” said Holbrooke.

“If I did, I would do what already happened. I would give it to all of you, cause that’s what happened. This Valley Floor belongs to all of us. There’s no houses, there’s no golf courses out there. It belongs to all of us,” she said.

“The town already celebrates Valley Floor on May 9th, and we try to make our day as close to that as possible,” explained Holbrooke.

“But today as you can see is a beautiful day with the birds singing and we’re super happy to be out here.”

It’s May 17th, Valley Floor Day for Telluride Elementary’s youngest students.

Although Pinhead organizes the annual day of experiential education, folks from educational non-profits across town turn out to lead activities ranging from a pollinator scavenger hunt to a historical construction project.

Theresa Koenigsknecht of the Telluride Museum explains the gist of her station.

“The first peoples who lived here were, and still are, the Ute Peoples, and on the Valley Floor they would come here in the summers and build hunting shelters,” said Koenigsknecht.

“So we’re going to engineer a shelter with the kids. They [the Ute] would call them wiki-ups, but people also probably think of them as teepees.”

Closer to the river, which runs high and brown with the spring snowmelt, Elena Hausser said she’ll go more into the science side of things.

“I work for the Wastewater Treatment Plant so I’m going to be talking about nutrients in the river and how that affects life and biology in the rivers. Then we’re going to do a little activity where we throw pine cones or sticks into the river to see where the river is moving fastest,” she said.

Observing the water rushing by will teach kids about the erosion which has carved out the box canyon they call home, or that’s the theory at least.

But, Adrian Bergere, Director of the San Miguel Watershed Coalition adds, really, it's the values behind the day which he hopes stick with the kids over the years.

“I don’t think they’ll remember a ton of the specifics, but I hope that this up-and-coming generation remains appreciative of the space and continues to use the space for fishing or paddling or going for a hike, and that they can appreciate the ecological values and not just the recreational values,” said Bergere.

Over at the Pollinator Station, first grader Roc Owens has found something he’d like to share.

“A butterfly!” said Owens. “And baby bees?”

Bella Caralli, who reports she’s seen ducks and algae in the pond says this isn’t her first time coming out to the Valley Floor.

“We’ve been out here before. And today makes special because we get to explore the nature and explore new animals and it’s fun to be out in nature,” she said.

For Lia Cristadoro, Director of the Telluride Institute's Watershed Education Program, the repetition of the day is part of its importance

“I just love that it happens every year. I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to explore their own relationship with nature and reciprocity with land, and starting that young helps us create stewards when they’re older. I think that’s really important,” she said.

The Valley Floor Day is now in its sixth year.

It’s greeted countless excited kids with a display of animal and bird life, budding flora, and the signs of a Telluride spring arriving at long last.

Holbrooke concurs, having kids back again and again will drive home their belonging in this place.

“If you think of it, there are three different grades here: the kindergartners, the first graders, and the second graders. So the second graders will have been out here for the third time in three years and that’s a lovely thing,” said Holbrooke.

“And I do think that kids, as they get older, do feel more empowered to think of this place as their own, and as a place of bounty and wonder.”

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including KSJD.

Gavin McGough