Posts Tagged 'Soapstone Prairie Natural Area'

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.

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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

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.

Distinctive!

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)

“A place is a story happening many times”

by Brent Carmack, Assistant Director, and Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

One goal of every museum is to provide opportunities for visitors to make connections between what they see and learn at the museum with their own personal stories. A new opportunity to make those connections at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center went up a few months ago in conjunction with the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.

One of the most impressive things about Soapstone is simply the vast landscape that overwhelms you when you visit that place. To know that people have lived and thrived on that beautiful, harsh, sometimes unforgiving landscape for over 12,000 years can be humbling and inspiring. For the people who lived there, that landscape was a part of their identities. For most folks, their own personal landscape helps define who they are and how they view the world.

At the Museum we give people a chance to learn more about the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and its history, but we are also interested in learning about our visitors’ own stories. We posed a thought and a question to our visitors and gave them the opportunity to tell us a little about themselves.

“A place is a story happening many times.”  What place tells your story, and why?

This simple question has generated tons of responses, some funny, some sad, some whimsical, others simple. Responses come from all ages and several languages. Each response shares a little something of themselves, a gift to others who might read their story. Each response is an opportunity for further connection with the Museum and a chance for a little reflective thought—all goals of any museum experience.

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

We’ve collected some of our favorite responses and put them together in an interactive VoiceThread slideshow. Take a look at what some of our visitors have shared with us. The slideshow will advance automatically, or you can use the large arrow buttons in the lower corners to move forward and backward at your own pace.

We would love to hear from you, too — you can participate in this project even if you can’t come to the Museum. Here’s how:

  1. You can add your comment to any of the messages in the slideshow by clicking the “Comment” button at the lower edge of the slideshow frame. You’ll see that a couple of us have posted some comments ourselves. You can type your comment, or record a spoken comment and upload it to the slideshow. You’ll need to register for a VoiceThread account to do this, but it’s easy (really! Just your name, email address, and password) and free (bonus!).
  2. The very last slide in the show is where you can add your own story of place. Again, you can type in your comment or record it and upload it.

Or — you don’t have to respond at all, just pause for a moment and ponder the meaning of place to you.

(But we’d be delighted if you did respond!)

Another perspective on artifact looting

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We’ve written several times in this blog about artifact looting, most recently in regards to the June raid and arrests made by Federal agents in Blanding, Utah. That story in particular has sparked a lot of  interest and emotion, especially here in the West.

People who illegally collect artifacts from public lands offer a variety of justifications, many of which are being used by the folks who were caught in the Blanding sting: it’s a time-honored community tradition; the artifacts will just end up in a box in some archaeologist’s lab, so why not pick them up; we’re just doing what everyone else does. Whatever the justification, the fact still remains that it is a crime to remove artifacts from public land.

Removing artifacts also destroys much of what those artifacts can tell us, scientifically. Without context — where an object was found, what was found with it and around it — all we’re left with are disconnected fragments. Archaeologists and museum professionals have weighed in on this subject in regards to the Blanding cases and artifact looting in general.

But there’s a third consideration that received scant, if any, ink in the Blanding saga, and that’s the voice of the people who are the cultural and spiritual heirs of these artifacts. And while there’s no such thing as a “pan-Indian” perspective or opinion on how to treat artifacts, there are those who believe that these objects retain a spiritual quality that goes beyond antiquities laws and scientific processes. From this point of view, the question of what to do with an artifact has a simple answer: Don’t pick it up. It doesn’t belong to you.

Last year, the Fort Collins Museum began a film project to document Native American elders speaking on this topic. The resulting film, “Meeting in the Center with Respect,” debuted in May 2009 as part of the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, a place that’s also home to artifacts ranging from 12,000 years old to those of the historic era. It’s an opportunity to hear an often unheard voice and to get a different perspective on what meaning objects have, and how their connections survive across time, space, and cultural disruption.

The situation in southeastern Utah only highlights how much education still needs to be done to help all of us understand the ethical responsibility we have to protect, respect, and conserve ancestral sites and artifacts.

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area grand opening report

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past weekend, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area officially opened to the public (the opening of Red Mountain Open Space was delayed until this weekend because the recent rains had made the roads too soft). We had the most beautiful Saturday you could imagine, and while we were greeted on Sunday by lightning and hail (remember: it’s a remote site and the weather changes, so always be prepared), approximately 500 people visited. While I have a lot of thoughts about the opening weekend, the main one is this: Thank you.

Thank you to the voters of Fort Collins and Larimer County for allowing the city and county to purchase and preserve these properties and the cultural and natural histories on them.

Thank you to the managers who developed the properties’ management plans, the surveyors who discovered the properties’ ecological and archaeological resources, the researchers who gathered hours upon hours of oral history interviews so we could learn about the peoples who called this land home, and the educators who put all the information together for the public.

Thank you to all the city and county volunteers who will interpret and protect Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain. I know that both our visitors and the cultural and natural treasures will be in good hands with you.

Finally, thank you to all the visitors who came this weekend, and everyone still to come. As soon as you step on Soapstone Prairie or Red Mountain, you become part of a story of the connections between people and the land that’s been told there for over 12,000 years. I hope you’ll find that as special as I do.

On Saturday, Ram Nation, CSU’s Native drumming group, performed. One of their songs was an appreciation song — sung at events to thank planners, volunteers, and participants for everything they do. That song echoing out across the plains and up the Cheyenne Ridge was a more eloquent and moving gesture of thanks that I can give. I wish everyone could have heard it.

Llama packing on a Soapstone Prairie trail

Llama packing on a Soapstone Prairie trail


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