Woodbine is an educational center, but its biggest classroom is the land itself, with all its features and inhabitants. It is in this living classroom, rather than inside four walls, that the greatest lessons can be found. When we spend time in the natural world, when we engage all of our senses—as well as our imagination and our creativity—then we can learn again how to be part of this place, how to be in community with it.
Our aim is to reconstruct a balanced relationship between humans and the total environment. We are particularly dedicated to ensuring that children—many of whom are from urban areas—have the opportunity to develop a respectful, harmonious, and informed relationship with nature. Woodbine as a living classroom can be the place to do just that.
Words cannot fully capture the feeling of being in this place. We invite you to come and find out for yourself, or even better, to join us in making this place part of you. In the meanwhile, you can take a virtual walking tour with us. On this tour, we'll encounter foxes and mule deer, walk through Douglas fir on a sunny day, ponder history in the meadow, traverse Perimeter Loop to Strawberry Rock, nod to turkeys in the forest, listen to bullfrogs at the Pond, and take in the view at Top o' the Knob.
The fresh, drifted snow from last night's storm compresses under our feet like cottony satin, as we make our way up Woodbine's main road to the water tanks. Only a small, razor straight line of tracks interrupts the pristine blanket of snow ahead of us. Fox, we immediately conclude. The small footprints are unmistakable. The only question is, Are the tracks from the young red fox with the magnificent, bushy tail or from the older, three-legged black fox that only comes around after ten at night?
We have often speculated what happened to that misshapen, and now worthless, back-right leg on "Blackie," as we call the fox. Maybe a speeding vehicle on nearby Highway 67 clipped him? Perhaps there was a vicious tangle with the neighboring German shepherd or with a protective mother raccoon? Or it could be that someone with a bad aim only wounded the beautiful, ebony-furred fox.
We have also wondered why in the world a black fox would be roaming the grounds of Woodbine, when black foxes are not native to this area, or indeed to North America. That's always when we recall the story:
Decades ago, there was a fox farm not far from Woodbine, just downstream on Jarre Creek. Variously, the tale goes, there was either a mass jailbreak by the caged foxes, or someone deliberately released the animals that were being raised to become various articles of winter clothing.
Regardless, the descendants of the fox-farm exodus continue to roam the wooded hills and gullies in these parts, with coloring that ranges from crimson to sable-and a wide variety in between.
So, which fox did leave the tracks? Easy enough. There are four paw prints; it was a red one.
A Sunny Day in February
This brisk February morning seems especially bright, illuminated by an enormous warming sun, rising from the southern horizon. The cloudless, royal blue sky provides a perfect backdrop for hundreds of Douglas fir trees, the morning frost still glistening on every pine needle. The flawless sky above us unfolds in sharp contrast to the thick ice-fog and steady snow that was shrouding the ground just twelve hours earlier.
The weather at Woodbine is like that-a meteorological enigma. We can receive a foot of snow, and the roads in Denver, less than twenty five miles away, might be hardly wet. We can be visited by a blizzard one night, and, as with today, the next morning will be clear, calm, and sun-bathed as the summer solstice.
Walking the main road, we approach the crest of the hill, near the water tanks, and startle three mule deer: a doe and her two fawns. They bound into the nearby scrub oak, but only so far as to convince themselves that they are out of harm's way. Then they turn to inspect us. After the deer are assured we intend no harm, they resume their grazing. The yellowed buffalo grass at the base of the fir trees has become a favored staple.
The snow is decidedly deeper up here, near the water tanks, than it is down at the lodge. We consider whether we should have brought our snowshoes. This hill-crest area is fully accessible by foot during three seasons, but in winter the hill and the fire circle below are often accessible only with the aid of snowshoes. We trudge on, knee-deep in powder, grateful for the warm sunshine, disturbing a small group of American crows up in the Ponderosa pine ahead. The crows issue warning caws, in apparent surprise, or disdain, but soon settle down. We proceed across the icy footbridge, pass the water well, and continue toward the open meadow.
A couple of weaker aspen trees have been blown down across the trail. No doubt, the work of the sharp Northern winds that accompanied last night's snowstorm. The aspen are only about four inches in diameter, so we are surprised to see that they were toppled at the root. They will make good firewood, or perhaps some trail railings in the spring.
Quickly, the trail opens up into the Meadow. The bright, snow-bleached ground contrasts the darkness of the magnificent Douglas fir that occupies the center of the meadow. The massive tree, perhaps a hundred feet tall (it would be taller if a summer thunderstorm hadn't snapped off its top ten feet last July), is the sentinel for this, the most serene and tranquil location at Woodbine. In the spring, summer, and fall, in this meadow, we acknowledge the change of the seasons. At this spot, we recall and reflect on our connection and commitment to the land.
We also imagine this was where the White River Utes camped in a previous era. We know that the White River Utes, with such notable characters as Colorow, Piah, and Captain Jack, traveled regularly through the area now known as Woodbine. It is logical to deduce that indigenous groups traversing this area would camp along the primary water source, Jarre Creek, on their way to the buffalo and other game areas on the Eastern Plains of Colorado. (The Utes, along with other Native nations, also traded in the nascent towns of Sedalia, Frankstown, and Manitou Springs.)
These days, during the spring and summer, the snowmelt supplies a nearby waterfall. Its lively song can be heard as its waters flow into the pond and proceeds six miles downstream to its confluence with Plum Creek in Sedalia. In the late spring and summer, a variety of wildflowers-including violet columbine, pink and purple coneflowers, and golden broadleaf arnica-cover the meadow in a soothing carpet of color and life.
On the hill that rises south from the Meadow stands Strawberry Rock, which can be reached by walking Perimeter Loop. As the name indicates, Perimeter Loop follows the fence line around the entire Woodbine facility. Strawberry Rock is a beautiful outcropping of boulders. It is an ideal hiking and picnic location in the summer and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
On this February day, Strawberry Rock and the higher elevation areas are not readily reachable. But in spring, summer, and fall, Perimeter Loop offers a challenging one-mile hike over some of the most beautiful forested hills in Colorado.
Following the old four-wheel drive road south of Jarre Creek, and in the midst of the ponderosa pines and the Douglas firs, we find six spartan cabins, a bathroom/shower building, and an older, timber-clad structure that would make a splendid artist's retreat/studio. For some reason, our resident flock of wild turkeys is very fond of this area and can often be found grazing and scratching throughout the fall. They seem to linger especially through November, perhaps appreciating that they are safe at Woodbine from any prospective hunters who might be looking for an untamed main course for Thanksgiving dinner.
This is the most easily accessible forested part of Woodbine, and it is part of our developing forest management plan-a collaborative effort between Woodbine and the Colorado State Forest Service to actively manage the forest in order to minimize threats from fire and disease. This predominantly pine and fir forest offers many learning opportunities for staff, volunteers, and program participants.
As we approach the pond, we witness three beautiful blue-violet Steller's jays fly over the pond to perch in the large ponderosa pines near the lodge. The clumps of cattails at either end of the pond, which proliferate all summer, are now dormant-brittle, mustard-brown stalks. During the summer, when the cattails are verdant, mating pairs of Mallards and a couple of Great Blue herons take refuge in them.
That's when the pond is most alive-with salamanders, bullfrogs, and even an occasional trout or two. A family of raccoons can regularly be found at water's edge, searching for duck eggs and other pond delicacies. And on the east side of the pond, where the creek flows toward the lower pasture, the patch of wild raspberries makes for quite a competition among all the various residents (including the human ones), once the berries have achieved their summer ripeness.
As we continue our walk, we follow Jarre Creek downstream, passing the "outdoor classroom," which is nestled in the woods and can seat upwards of 100 people. It's an ideal location for outdoor workshops and experiential learning.
Top o' the Knob
In the late spring, when the snow has melted, we could head up the hill and intersect Perimeter Loop to get up to the highest point at Woodbine: Top o' the Knob (TOK). At TOK, the landscape stretches out before us-Pike's Peak in the south, the Eastern Plains, Castle Rock and Franktown, all the way up to Denver, and as far north as Long's Peak. Looking to the north, we also get a marvelous view of the entire Woodbine facility, including the lower pasture, corrals, garden area, basketball court, swimming pool, and playing fields-where larger groups can gather, play games, or camp.
Walking on the land, taking in the smells, sights, and sounds each season, we understand why we began-and continue-this project. It is very easy to feel the rhythms of the earth, to watch and listen to the birds and animals who flourish in this refuge, and to listen to the trees and other plant life, as they whisper the lessons of this land, inviting us to become, again, a part of it.