Let Freedom Sing — Ted Turner Reserves
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Let Freedom Sing

Connecting with nature inspires kids to burst out singing the
Star-Spangled Banner.


The end of the school year means lots of testing and project deadlines. After hours staring at multiple choice bubble sheets and pages and pages of essays, kids and teachers alike yearn for a taste of freedom. This year, students and faculty from the local Des Moines schools in New Mexico, took a break and switched to a more experiential type of learning with a visit to Vermejo Reserve to connect with nature and learn about the science that goes into restoring and protecting land and wildlife.

Since Ted Turner purchased Vermejo in 1996, a team of biologists, geologists, foresters, and other scientists have been working with the Turner Endangered Species Fund to bring back endangered creatures and make Vermejo’s six ecotypes vibrant and healthy. On this sunny spring day, the team took time out to teach the kids about topics ranging from forestry to mammals, fish, fossils, and firefighting.

“My favorite part was seeing the fossils,” one girl said, “maybe because I’ve only found one in my entire life.”

Throughout millions of years of history, countless different types of life have inhabited Vermejo and some of them have left clues about their existence etched into stone, Geologist Sara Holm explained.

Forester Amanda Benton taught the students all about trees and gave them a chance to determine the age of a tree using an increment borer to bore a hole into the tree and count the stripes on the piece they extracted. Another exciting moment was getting to witness an old dead tree getting chopped down.

“Seeing where lightning struck the tree was my favorite part,” one student said.

Firefighting was another favorite station as students nearly toppled over backward under the weight of a firefighter’s pack and talked with Vermejo Safety Coordinator and Fire Chief Jacob Martinez.

Standing at the edge of Merrick Lake, students helped to dissect trout, got a good look at their respiratory and digestive systems, and some insight into how fish survive under water. They also learned about the work that has been done to restore the native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout that were on the verge of extinction until Vermejo partnered with other agencies to restore them to over 40 miles of stream and 16 lakes.

After loads of learning and a hearty lunch, the students headed out on a hike around the lake. Fifth-graders scrambled up the rocky summit of their adventure, shouting in triumph and fist-pumping the air as the wind whipped their faces. After a busy day learning about nature, now they were experiencing its power with all of their senses. Excitement changed to awe and inspiration as they turned and gazed at the view of the rippling water in the lake and Vermejo’s snow-capped mountains against a bright blue sky. A group of boys took off their hats and started singing, “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” a few students joined in the song and a hush fell across the others as they took in the beauty and serenity of the landscape and reflected on a day well spent, finding themselves in nature.