NRM Field Technicians Work on Local Erosion Projects

Nrm students moving a large stump to add roughness and prevent future erosion in the suglarloaf mining district of leadville. NRM Summer Internships work on local erosion project
NRM students and staff position a large tree stump to add roughness and prevent future erosion. (Left to Right: Tom Schoonover (Student – Field Technician), Katie MacKnight (Asst. Project Manager), Rachel Hallann (GeoCorps partner), & Dirk Rasmussen (Asst. Project Manager)

Natural Resource Management Field Technicians Manage Erosion Project for Summer Internship

Leadville is known for many things; incredible access to recreation, rich mining history, and if you’re familiar with natural resource management — the NRM Timberline Field Institute. Sure, it may not be as world renowned as the Leadville Race Series or as popular as Leadville mining was in the late 1800’s, but if an experiential-based environmental education interests you, you may find their work pretty interesting.

The Natural Resource Management program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville is unlike any other program in Colorado. Rarely can you find the resources and equipment available to NRM students in an ideal, mountain environment. Seldom are students able to apply newly acquired skills while positively impacting the environmental quality of a rural community.

“Mining activity has had a variety of environmental impacts on the Leadville area,” says Dr. Katy Warner, Natural Resource Management Program Director, “Which makes this an ideal place to observe the effects and work on projects associated with water quality, soil quality and erosion control.”

Steve Smith, a Denver water quality consultant and Cat Hunt, full time student field technician at CMC Leadville, building log erosion barriers near Turquoise Lake
Steve Smith, a Denver water resource engineer, and Cat Hunt, full time student field technician, building log erosion barriers near Turquoise Lake.

On a recent course, NRM student field technicians and staff joined forces with a Steve Smith, a Denver-based water resource engineer, to manage and prevent erosion at a historic mining district, near Turquoise Lake. This 5-day intensive project focussed on learning and implementing erosion control techniques such as adding roughness, building log erosion barriers, installing erosion matting, and constructing sediment basins.

Sediment basins are ponds that capture eroded or disturbed soil to protect water quality, and two, built by the NRM program, can be found in Little Frying Pan Gulch. One dam was built during the first few days of the 2017 sediment course, and the other was constructed in fall 2016. Based on observations, it’s clear this technique has been effective. Last year’s pond has filled in with more than four feet of sediment, and shifted the creek away from the bank, preventing water contamination and future erosion. NRM students and staff observe the effectiveness of these techniques with a game cam, set up downstream from the majority of their efforts to capture and record progress.

“We’re at the headwaters of the Arkansas River,” says Dr. Warner, who joined NRM program in 2016, “Everything that happens upstream in these creeks and tributaries has a profound effect on the water quality downstream.”

Dr. Katy Warner showing the decomposing granite that the NRM team hopes to prevent from contaminated water ways and effecting water quality using erosion techniques.
Dr. Katy Warner showing the decomposing granite that the NRM team hopes to prevent from contaminated water ways and effecting water quality using erosion techniques.

The sediment course is a part of ongoing efforts to minimize and prevent future environmental issues in the Sugarloaf Mining District. While the NRM department works to prevent additional erosion and contaminated soil/ decomposing granite from entering waterways in the Little Frying Pan Gulch, other local and state agencies are also working in the area. Just up the dirt road, volunteers are planting trees over a repository filled with tailings piles from the mines below. The efforts are lead by Craig Bissonnette, a graduate of CMC’s Natural Resource Management program, and current Reclamation Specialist at the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

The erosion control project near Turquoise Lake is contracted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is just one of the many projects NRM Field Technicians will work on this summer. Other projects include partnering with the Rockies Rock program to provide NRM and STEM education to Lake County youth, water quality sampling and monitoring for the EPA, wetlands delineation, and vegetation monitoring for the USFS. Though not all NRM students pursue paid positions with the Field Institute, between 3 – 6 students take advantage of the opportunity each summer.

“The small class sizes make it so our professors have a personal interest in achieving student success,”says Tom Schoonover, a 29-year-old student from Morrison, CO, “I’m not exactly sure what I want to do as far as careers go, but the internship component with the Field Institute has exposed me to a few different possibilities.”

This sediment basin was built in Fall 2016, and has already filled with more than four feet of sediment. NRM students and staff also rerouted the water channel away from the bank on the right to prevent future erosion issues.
This sediment basin was built in Fall 2016, and has already filled with more than four feet of sediment. NRM students and staff also rerouted the water channel away from the bank on the right to prevent future erosion issues.
Erosion cause by water runoff in the sugarloaf Mining District. NRM students and staff strategizing hoe best to position the log to add a barrier and prevent soil from contaminating waterways.
Erosion cause by water runoff in the sugarloaf Mining District. NRM students and staff strategizing hoe best to position the log to add a barrier and prevent soil from contaminating waterways.

Timberline Field Institute: Paid Positions & Networking Opportunities.

The Timberline Field Institute at Colorado Mountain College Leadville works with the Natural Resource Management program to provide relevant, paid positions and incredible learning opportunities for students. Student field technicians have worked on a variety of projects with public, private, and government agencies such as the EPA, BLM, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the U.S. Geological survey (USGS).

The Natural Resource Management program and the Timberline Field Institute are redefining the traditional college internship. Although Field Technicians are similar to typical college interns in some ways, like the basis of experiential education, there are also many components that set these positions apart. Unlike many unpaid college internships, all student Field Technician are compensated to work on a variety of projects throughout the summer. They have their hands in all sorts of relevant assignments throughout the summer, not just a singular task.

Through these different projects, student technicians are able to gain hands-on professional experience while being exposed to the many potential career paths for Natural Resource Management graduates. They begin to develop their interests, often discovering what they do (and don’t) want to pursue after graduation. Concurrently, students are given the opportunity to connect with industry professionals, often paving the way for post-grad employment and incredible networking opportunities.

Tree branches and logs add roughness to the channel, an erosion control technique implemented by the NRM Staff and Field Technicians.
Tree branches and logs add roughness to the channel, an erosion control technique implemented by the NRM Staff and Field Technicians.

“Most students take advantage of the networking opportunity with our project partners,” says Dr. Warner, “They learn what they need in order to succeed in various roles, while building a solid network of professional connections. Motivated students might end up finding permanent positions within these organizations. If they stay local, we may end up working together on a project down the road, where they are passing along skills to a new generation of NRM students.”


Visit coloradomtn.edu to learn more about the Natural Resource Management program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville.

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