Archive for the 'Natural areas' Category

Pronghorn Migration

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Hopefully you’ve all been watching National Geographic’s Great Migrations and are fascinated by the idea that organisms can move, en masse, across huge distances and survive problems of predation, starvation, and weather.

However, as you find yourself engrossed in the migration stories from plankton to African elephants, don’t forget that there’s an amazing migration story happening practically in your backyard (if you live in northern Colorado or Wyoming, that is): Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana).

Pronghorn Migration

Animals belonging to the pronghorn family have been in North America for over 20 million years. Today only the species A. americana remains, and more of those pronghorn live in northern Colorado and Wyoming combined than any other place in North America.

Every fall, hundreds of pronghorn complete the second-longest migration in the Western Hemisphere: over 100 miles from Grand Teton National Park to their winter range Upper Green River Valley in Wyoming. Their summer range in the Grand Tetons is too cold during the winter, and without enough food, but Wyoming has everything they need.

Pronghorn have been making this migration for over 6,000 years. The migration corridor, 125 miles long and only 1 mile wide, is threatened by the presence of people, but pronghorn still make the trek every year, crawling under fences, crossing busy roads, and avoiding human development whenever possible.

In 2008, biologist and photographer Joe Riis was the first to document the entire pronghorn migration on foot. Watch the beautiful footage here.

One of the best places to see pronghorn in Fort Collins is at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, just north of the city. The winter pronghorn population there ranges from 300-450 individuals. However, if you want to see pronghorn at Soapstone Prairie, you’d better hurry. The natural area closes December 1st and won’t open again until March 1st. Don’t worry, though. The pronghorn will still be there.


From the Archives: Rosalie Kelly Remembers – Walden

by Pat Walker, Research Assistant, Local History Archives

The Fort Collins Local History Archive has a large collection of Oral Histories taken in the early 1970s. Rosalie Kelley Remembers is a series of excerpts taken from an interview with Rosalie Kelly, a descendant of North Park pioneer families the Pinkhams and Allards, May 22, 1975.

Now I’m trying to think about different things that were interesting in Walden when I first went there. Well, I remember my first day of school. And – oh, it was an adventure to us. Guy and I had always played by ourselves. We didn’t have other kids to play with. And here were all these kids, there was eight grades and the four grades of high school in one little building. But oh, that seemed enormous to me. Now there are four, five, six buildings on that campus. That’s a regular little campus. But then, this was one school house. And a little girl that I didn’t know then, but have know all my life and she’s a life-long friend, came up and put her hands in mine – took ahold of mine and she said, “You’re a new little girl here, Rosalie. If you come out at recess with me, back behind the school house, I’ll tell you where babies come from.” (laughter) That was my memory of my first day at school. I said, “Well, you really don’t need to bother, because my mother’s already told me.” (laughter)

Another thing we enjoyed, and just had a ball when we first got there, was, if Mamma wasn’t along and Guy and I went over – we only lived about a block from Main Street – we’d run up and down those board sidewalks, so you’d hear them clatter, you know, and clang, but if she was around, there was no running on the board sidewalks.

There’s a little soda fountain in Dr. Fisher’s Pharmacy and we could go in there and for a nickel we could get and ice cream soda.

And we’d lived always on a ranch, you know, so my, that was something to get that ice cream soda.”

Walden School Classroom

Walden, Colorado August 4, 1903

The Snyder House Hotel, Walden, Colorado about 1910

Trails Thursday: Explore Old Town’s pocket park

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Gustav Swanson Natural Area, early spring

In this week’s exploration of our Trails of Northern Colorado natural and cultural heritage tour website, I thought we’d take a look at a wonderful little natural area that’s tucked away practically right under our noses in Old Town, Fort Collins: the Gustav Swanson Natural Area.

I’ve lived in Fort Collins for almost 25 years, and worked in Old Town for many of those years, but until I worked on the Trails project I had never heard of the Gustav Swanson Natural Area. Just over the Poudre River bridge on Linden Street, this sweet little park winds through the cottonwoods along the river and is a great place to bird watch or just relax in the shade. If you visit early in the morning, you may even see deer.

The area originally became a park in 1887, then went through several changes of fortune before becoming one of the City of Fort Collins’ natural areas in 1988. The area’s name was chosen to honor Gustav Swanson, a pioneering conservationist and head of the Fishery and Wildlife Department at Colorado State University.

So if you’re craving a break from your urban existence, a beautiful little bit of nature is waiting for you on the north edge of Old Town. Go explore!

You can also find more information about the Gustav Swanson Natural Area on the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas website.

Trails Thursday: Meet the Plaster King

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Last month, the Museum launched our “Trails of Northern Colorado” website. The Trails website is a cultural and natural history driving tour of northern Colorado which links many of our favorite places and stories into a fun adventure, perfect for summer exploration. Many of the locations take you to our various and wonderful natural areas and open spaces, while others are more urban. Over the next couple of months, we’re going to highlight some of the stops on the tour; we hope you’ll go out and experience the rest!

Devil's Backbone Open Space (photo by Scott Bacon)

Devil’s Backbone Open Space is the southern-most stop on Tour 1 of the Trails of Northern Colorado, which covers the foothills region. Located a few miles west of Loveland, the dominant natural feature of this open space is a hogback ridge of hard Dakota sandstone. Just to the south is the Big Thompson River, and nestled in a valley to the west are stone quarries, beautiful agricultural land, and some really interesting historical stories. One of those stories involves Alfred Wild, also known as “Colorado’s Pioneer Hop Grower and Plaster King.”

Alfred Wild (photo courtesy of the Fort Collins Local History Archive)

In the late 1880s while digging an irrigation ditch on his land in this valley, Wild discovered a thick vein of high-quality gypsum. Being an entrepreneurial sort of fellow, he experimented with some small-scale methods of turning the gypsum into plaster. One thing led to another, including a partnership with the U.S. Gypsum Corporation, and Wild’s Buckhorn Mill operated until 1965.

Alfred Wild also established a successful orchard, grew hops which he sold to the country’s western breweries, and operated a brick kiln. And there’s even more to his story … so go explore, and add Devil’s Backbone Open Space to your list of “yep, I’ve done that!” as you travel the Trails of Northern Colorado.

“Trails of Northern Colorado” website launches

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Now that summer is here, it’s time to get serious about getting out and seeing some sights. If you live in northern Colorado, or are planning on visiting us, we’re excited to announce a new Google Maps-based driving tour that will take you to some of the truly outstanding places in our area.

The Trails of Northern Colorado” is a website created by the Museum as part of a U.S. Park Service Preserve America grant. Literally over 12,000 years in the making, the website offers three different driving tours of the distinctive regions of northern Colorado — the foothills, the river, and the plains. Each tour consists of multiple stops, each with its own unique cultural and natural history story to tell. Taken together, the tour reveals many stories and hidden gems that even long-time residents may not be aware of.

I don’t want to give too much more away, other than to say “Go explore!” We really hope you’ll enjoy this great new resource.

You can read more about the project on the Museum’s website.

New Lindenmeier resource

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

The folks at Beet Street (our Fort Collins community arts and cultural organization) wrote a great blog post yesterday about a visit to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area (SPNA). They very kindly gave a shout-out to the Museum’s recently published booklet, “The Excavation of Lindenmeier: A Folsom Site Uncovered 1934-1940.” The booklet is a great resource if you’d like to know the in-depth story of this amazing archaeological site, from discovery through excavation. Although the site itself is not accessible to the public, you can visit the Lindenmeier Overlook at SPNA and get a great view of one of the most important early  human habitation sites in North America.

I feel a little sheepish because we put a great deal of work into producing the booklet, and I have neglected to talk about it here on the blog! So, thank you to Beet Street’s post for giving me a reminder. The Lindenmeier booklet was part of a Preserve America grant that the Museum received in 2008. We had received our first Preserve America grant in 2006, which allowed us to conduct an extensive oral history project, interviewing over 40 people with ties to Soapstone Prairie; we produced a short video and a research report as part of that grant. For the second grant, we produced another video (“Meeting in the Center with Respect”), the Lindenmeier booklet, and a web-based cultural heritage tour guide (which will be launching soon).

Soapstone Prairie, and the Lindenmeier Site in particular, are very dear to our hearts at the Museum. We have the largest public collection of Lindenmeier artifacts outside of the Smithsonian Institution, with a fine assortment of Folsom points, scrapers, awls, and other tools on exhibit in our gallery. In 2000 we put on a major exhibition called “Dig It!” which provided a detailed look at the excavation. This story will also play a prominent role in our new museum. The story of Lindenemeier is a national treasure, and it’s right in our backyard.

The Lindenmeier booklet is available, free of charge, in our Museum Store. If you can’t swing by to pick up a copy, you can also download a PDF of the booklet from the Museum’s website. I will echo Beet Street’s blog and say, learn a little about Lindenmeier, and then get up to Soapstone. And prepared to be awed!

Folsom points from the Lindenemeier Archaeological Site on exhibit at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center

Behind the scenes: Curator of Cultural Interpretation, part II

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

This is the second part of a recent interview with Katie Bowell, the Museum’s Curator of Cultural Interpretation.

More to Explore: Tell us a little bit about your background.

Katie Bowell: I did my undergraduate in Canada at the University Guelph, and I wanted to be a zoologist, I wanted to be a researcher and work in a lab, until I actually got to be a researcher and work in a lab and learned that I was really, really bad at it. It’s a long process. Usually, you think of a question and then it’s a long time until you get the answer, and it’s a lot of work, and the people who can do it and do it well, that’s fabulous, but I wasn’t good at it. What I found I really liked doing was, once someone had figured out the answer to a question, I liked getting to tell people about that answer. And so about halfway through my degree in zoology, I also decided to get a degree in English, because I figured that if I wanted to tell people about stuff, I probably needed to be a good writer, a good communicator, and that seemed a way to do it.

And so I graduated, and then I couldn’t get a job anywhere. Finally I found a job at this little tiny butterfly conservatory. And I had never worked with insects, and I was terrified of insects, petrified. My mom used to tell the joke that I would never, ever walk around outside in my bare feet because the ants would get me. But I had to pay rent so I started this job as an interpreter of insects, and I got to practice what I thought I might be good at, which was interpreting and sharing information. And I actually discovered that insects were really cool, and I loved it and stayed there and became their director of education and interpretation. But I got a little tired of some of the things about the job, mainly that I was always dirty and sweaty, and there were cockroaches, and so it was fun but it was  gross. So I decided, maybe I can work in a museum, because it’s clean and air conditioned and they still have animals, they’re not alive, so it’s not quite as fun, but they have fewer cockroaches, so I thought that was a good way to go.

The University of Colorado in Boulder has a natural history museum and a very good Museum Studies program that I got accepted to, with a Zoology focus, because I was very sure I was going to work in a natural history museum. I did that for two years and ended up with a really cool thesis that looked at intersections of animals and people. I looked at art installations, fine art installations, in zoos and aquariums, and what happened when you had these human-created pieces that were side-by-side with animals, how were visitors responding to it? It was a really fun study and got me interested in this intersection of content. And then someone was smiling down on me and the clouds parted, because just as I was graduating this job opened and I applied.

MtE: How will your work feed into the new museum?

KB: I think my work is going to play into the new museum in a couple of ways. One of the really exciting things we’re planning for is really highlighting those interconnections. Like the way that the processes of the river affect how people were farming here, and affect what organisms are living there and where the cottonwoods are found and why Camp Collins was first established here. We really are helping people see these connections and that really is my big focus, that every story is a part of a larger story. I think that as an interpreter, the more connections you can highlight, the more you can help connect current visitors to what you’re talking about, and the more likely they are to remember what you’re sharing with them and get excited about it. And so I’m really excited to get to continue to develop those.

We’re also continuing to work with Natural Areas, they’re going to have a space within the new museum, a dedicated visitor’s center, and I’m helping them develop that. As well we’re going to have all the outdoor experiences around the museum and the opportunity to interpret there. So that’s what I see myself doing now with it, but I’m sure that more things will pop up.

MtE: What are you looking forward to in the new museum?

KB: A window [in her office]. Well, this is the second museum I’ve ever worked in, and both of those were buildings where we had to squeeze our experiences into those spaces. With this new museum, I am so excited that we get to plan out exactly what we want, and we’re going to have room for it. And I think that that can do a lot for the visitor experience that we end up having. I am most excited for everyone else to get to see this brand-new museum, full of really neat things. And it’s really dorky, but I’m excited to watch their reactions to it. One of the things that I do here, at least a little bit, is visitor evaluations, visitor studies. I’m really curious as to how people use our spaces, how they interact with what we have on the floor, what they think about what we’re doing, because we’re a community museum, we exist for our visitors. So I’m so excited to see them seeing our new museum. I think that’s really going to be cool.

Wild Neighbors: The Camera Capture Project at Bobcat Ridge

by guest blogger Deborah Price, Education Coordinator, Bobcat Ridge Natural Area

We often hear that we share our spaces with wildlife, but it’s more likely that wildlife share their spaces with us.

This reality comes to light through a wildlife camera study that is currently happening at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area near Masonville. Eight on-site cameras have captured photos of animal residents such as bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, rabbits, birds, skunks, wild turkeys, squirrels, and even a mountain lion! Many of these photos are captured at night, but a good number are taken in broad daylight right on the trails, sometimes just a few minutes before or after people have walked in the same spot.

Elk at Bobcat Ridge on December 29, 2009

What this tells us is that animals are watching us when we least expect it, and that they try to avoid encounters as much as possible. In other words, if we allow them their space, encounters are fewer and nature’s patterns continue as they should.

While the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program conserves spaces for humans to recreate, relax, and reconnect with nature, these are also important spaces for wildlife to live their lives.

If you’ve ever visited Bobcat Ridge, you can consider yourself lucky if you’ve spotted one of the wildlife residents. That’s what has made this project so amazing. Other than birds, insects, and a few rabbits, we may not see animals much of the time, but they are there and are doing well.

This doesn’t mean that you never see wildlife.  There have been plenty of sightings at Bobcat Ridge—it just requires a little patience. When you do get that surprise sighting, how exciting it is!

Enjoy your outing in these beautiful places, and remember how lucky we are to have wildlife share their homes with us. Thanks for the welcome mat!

If you’d like to find out more about this project and see more photos of the wildlife that’s been “captured” so far, please visit the Bobcat Ridge Natural Area camera capture project page at:

Behind the scenes: Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Next in our series of behind-the-scenes looks at what makes the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center tick, the roving More to Explore reporter ambushed interviewed Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation and frequent contributor to this blog. Part I of a two-parter.

Curator Katie Bowell (in ball cap) leading an interpretive program at the Lindenmeier overlook, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Photo courtesy City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

More to Explore: What does a Curator of Cultural Interpretation do?

Katie Bowell:  My primary job is to be the liaison between the Museum and the City’s Natural Areas Program, and so I help to interpret the historical and cultural stories of our natural spaces. And I also help bring biology, ecology, and other natural processes into the interpretations we’re doing in our museum. Since I’ve been here I’ve also helped develop a variety of interpretive resources, and I work on the Digital Media team and have a lot of fun with our blog and our website and Facebook. So I get to do a little bit of everything, but the main focus in almost everything that I do is still that intersection between history, culture, nature, and science, how to create interdisciplinary narratives and interpretations. It’s really interesting, I haven’t done anything like this before and when I mention what I do to most people, usually they’re surprised, and then they think it’s really cool.

MtE: What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?

KB:  The very first thing that I did when I got here was to work on the Soapstone Prairie project, which had been something that the Museum and the Natural Areas department and the City of Fort Collins had been working on for a couple years before I got here. It’s an incredible shortgrass prairie property, and on it was the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, one of the largest Folsom-complex sites in all of North America and one of the most diverse in terms of the artifacts found there and the people who lived there. And this is where the Museum-Natural Areas partnership really started, working on the Soapstone project. Mmy first job was to help develop the interpretation up there. So we have interpretive panels, and we have volunteer-led programs that go on all summer long, and in our first summer I think it may have been the most visitors to programs that they had at a natural area—somebody told me that, but I don’t know for sure. And so it’s been very successful. I’ve worked on that, and I worked on the Lindenmeier booklet [recently published by the Museum], and did a whole bunch of interpretations with Natural Areas. We re-did interpretive panels and developed a booklet for Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, focusing on the pioneer and early European history of the property, and interpreted some of the buildings that are still there.

One of the things that I’m really proud of is our blog. I have loved being a contributor to it, and it’s so fun. It’s a great way for me to keep learning too, because along with writing about things that I know, I’ll hear something on the news that I don’t have a background in and half an hour later I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and I get to write about it.

I also do training with Natural Areas staff. One of the things that the Museum is very passionate about is that if you’re going to interpret history, if you’re going to interpret people, that you do it with care and consideration,  respect for the stories you’re telling and the people they’re about, and with as much accuracy as you possibly can. So we’ve had great cultural training sessions with Natural Areas staff, so now the people out there are not only fabulous interpreters of biology and ecology but are great interpreters of history too. I’ve given a couple of presentations throughout the state on how to do this as well, for Colorado Open Spaces and even the Colorado Preservation Society, so we’ve gone to people who normally interpret nature and said, how can you add history to this?, and we’ve gone to people who interpret history and say, how can you add some nature and biology to this? And so we keep smushing everything together.

Since I’ve started here, the last year and a half, I’ve gotten to learn the history of Colorado and western America. I’ve been really immersed in learning about the native cultures we work with and their histories, and getting really a much broader and more interesting perspective on our experience here in northern Colorado than I would have ever thought about, I think, if I had lived here and just continued to be a biologist. So I love that part of my job is that I get to keep learning all the time.


by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Old Town Fort Collins. Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Earlier this morning, Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson stood on the west steps of the Museum to announce some exciting news: Fort Collins has been chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of their dozen “Distinctive Destinations” for 2010. The communities recognized by the National Trust are characterized as offering an “authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.” Yup, that’s us!

Fort Collins is frequently recognized for its beautifully preserved historic architecture — you’ll hear this a lot around here, and it’s true: “Main Street USA” at Disneyland was modeled on our very own Old Town. There are over 1,800 historic properties in Fort Collins that are on the national, State or local historic register. Fort Collins is not a very old community, but we’ve worked to preserve our heritage as a city, albeit a “young” one. The National Trust also gave us enthusiastic nods for our “active living” and our longstanding sustainability efforts. And our beer, too, of course.

But the phrase that popped out at me was “cultural landscapes.” To me, this is our most shining, if also least known, jewel: our literal “cultural landscape” is over 12,000 years old. Historic preservation is mostly about structures — the “built environment.” Around here, the built environment reflects less than 2% of the total time people have lived in this area. For the rest of that time, landscape and culture were deeply interwoven. The histories and traditions of the people who lived here over the millennia were encoded in the prairies, rivers, hills, plants, animals, earth and sky. If you’re familiar with the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, you know that Ice Age peoples left ample evidence of their lives at the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site. You may not know that stone tools created by even more ancient people were discovered in a farm field in Timnath, just east of Fort Collins. This Clovis cache resides at the Museum today. Folsom tools have been found not far from where the CSU Rams play football on fall afternoons.

This story is a harder sell — no wonderful old trolley cars or sandstone buildings to point to. Lots of stone tools, yes, but so much we don’t know about them. The people who could have told us the stories written on the prairies, rivers, and hills were driven off long ago and much of that precious information has been lost forever.

But this is the essential underpinning of what makes Fort Collins a “Distinctive Destination,” this deep cultural taproot that has grown so vigorously in this amazing landscape. I hope it’s a story people will continue to be curious about as they explore this marvelous community.

And don’t miss this: you can vote for your favorite of the 12 “Distinctive Destinations.” Vote early, vote often, vote Fort Collins!

Some other links:

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations

USA Today article “National Trust names Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2010

Speaking History: The Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project (video)

March 2023

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other subscribers

Flickr Photos