This three-session series began last week, when local geologist Marcie Ryan shed light upon the formation of the area's geology and local plant expert John Sir Jesse discussed the important ecological role of fungi. The Wednesday night talk, "Fire, Ice, and Fungi," was followed up by a Saturday walk with both experts, in which students had the opportunity to take what they had learned in the classroom out into the field.
This week's session highlights "Flora, Fauna, and Ecosystems," with botanist Peggy Lyon and San Miguel County Weed Director Sheila Grother. The evening talk and weekend walk will focus on the ecological functions of mountain and river plant communities in the San Juans.
"Humans, Water, and History" will be the topic of the final session of the series, August 18 and 21, with Telluride Historical Museum Director Andrea Benda and local Water Treatment Plant Manager Bill Goldsworthy, who will take students on a historic journey to discover how human developments in the region changed the face of the Telluride valley, and how current water usage issues directly affect our biological communities.
The summer Walks and Talks series is the first series of its kind for the San Juan Field School, a local non-profit outdoor education program. San Juan Field School Director Nicole Greene explains that the impetus for bringing the program to the community arose out of a desire to reach a larger percentage of Telluride citizens.
"In most of our other educational programs, we work directly with educators or their students, and so have very little interface with the community directly. This summer seminar series was created to reach a larger percentage of the community," Greene says.
John Molloy, San Juan Field School Program Coordinator, further explains that the summer series follows a similar format as the Field School's wintertime Community Avalanche Awareness Series, in which local experts are brought in to educate fellow community members about winter backcountry dangers. The summer series, Molloy explains, is designed to help locals gain a better understanding of our regional ecology as well as the role humans play in our environment.
"The idea behind these discussions is that if people have a better understanding of the natural world around us, and foster a genuine interest in our regional ecology, they will develop a stronger ethic for land stewardship and preserving our natural areas," Molloy says.
The topics of the three sessions follow a defined progression, which began with the most basic aspect of what we see around us in our natural environment – the geology of the region. This week's session will look at the flora and fauna that form the ecosystems that subsist in the area, and the series' final discussion will tie in the two previous sessions' topics by looking at the human component, and the human ecological footprint.
Tomorrow's talk will be piloted in part by local botanist Lyon, who will explore the numbers of native plants found in the San Juan's two ecological zones. Lyon, who has worked as a botanist for the Colorado Natural Heritage Program for the last nine years, will also join local weed expert Grother in discussing the impacts of invasive plant species on the region's different ecosystems. Grother and Lyon will then lead a walk up into the Bear Creek basin on Saturday to explore some of the zones and visit some of the plants discussed at Wednesday night's presentation.
"The idea behind our talk is that the more you know about our regional ecoystems, the better you'll take care of them," Lyon elaborates.
The Aug.18 presentation by Benda will examine the impact of humans on the local landscape throughout the history of human habitation in the area. The final event on Saturday will give participants the opportunity to tour Telluride's water treatment plant with Goldsworthy.
"I would encourage the community to join in on this program and come out and learn together," Molloy says. "By making a concerted effort to familiarize ourselves with what is around us, we can help create a movement to protect our natural areas."
Registration is $15 for each Talk-Walk session. For more information or to pre-register, call the San Juan Field School at 728-4104.
Finally, Molloy and Greene express their gratitude to local sponsors who assisted in getting this summer series underway. The Telluride Foundation, Telluride Ski and Golf Co., the Towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, San Juan Rivers Paddling School and the San Juan Outdoor School are financial sponsors of the non-profit San Juan Field School.