As part of my internship, I lead guided hikes from the top of the Eagle-Bahn Gondola at the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. During this hike, I introduce tourists to some of the local ecology and history of the Vail area. My hikes will change somewhat depending on the participants each week but overall I talk about similar things. The goal of this program is to help tourists understand and appreciate the importance of the National Forest land they are on.
On this hike I discuss some of the background of the White River National Forest which we are currently on, White River is the most visited National Forest in the country and is also more visited than any national park (this is mostly due to the fact that there are 11 ski resorts that lease the land from the Forest Service).
After talking more about the forest service I discuss the mountain pine beetle—a bark beetle that has caused considerable damage to many pine trees in Colorado. The remaining trees pose risks for forest fires, as well as extra work for the Forest Service in removing fallen trees from hiking and biking trails.
My next stop is a beautiful aspen grove to discuss the many special traits adaptations of this keystone species. Many times we will spot mule deer at this point in the hike, as they love to live in aspen groves and eat the many plants that grow on the forest floor.
Finally, I discuss the many beautiful wildflowers in the area. Some of the most common are Lupine and Indian Paintbrush, which are interesting to discuss because they have a symbiotic relationship in the nutrients they fix into the soil, making them some of the most common and also meaning we usually see them together. I also like to talk about Fireweed and Mariposa Lilies, which are some of the first forms of life to start growing after a forest fire has destroyed the forest.
I then wrap up by thanking them for coming and inviting them to come into our Nature Discovery Center where we have much more information about local ecology as well as interactive and hands-on exhibits.
It’s great to watch tourists understand and appreciate more about the Vail area, and is part of the reason I really love this internship.