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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Bear Creek Lake Park, Lakewood, Colorado, USA

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Bear Creek Lake Park, Lakewood, Colorado, USA
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Registered: August 2022
City/Town/Province: Morrison
Posts: 1
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For my Apprentice Ecologist Award project, I organized, directed, and led a reptile and amphibian survey in a Colorado open space currently under threat of being inundated for water storage, in the hopes of gathering data that would potentially play a hand in preserving the open space in question, Bear Creek Lake Park.

Bear Creek Lake Park, a beautiful open space located in west Denver situated between numerous major principalities, provides hundreds of thousands of Denver Metropolitan Area citizens with a respite from suburbia, and is a true natural haven, home to many secluded, peaceful areas, several recreational opportunities, and a fantastic array of wildlife. Since I was a child, Bear Creek Lake Park (BCLP) has offered me a beautiful, vast natural area to explore, and I've been biking its many trails and paths for as long as I can remember. However, it was only in the last two years I became aware of what truly makes BCLP special: the magical diversity of wildlife, in particular, reptiles and amphibians (referred to collectively as herps). On one of my many bike rides through the park in May of 2021, I stumbled across a large green snake sprawled across my favorite path, which turned out to be a yellow-bellied racer. Later that summer, I found a woodhouse's toad basking in the sun on the bank of one of the creeks that flow through the park. These two encounters cemented my love for the local herps, and going into the 2022 "season," I desperately wanted to use my passion and love for the herps in the park for good, and in the important fight to protect the park from potential destruction.

BCLP is in grave danger, as the natural wonderland so many people rely on for recreation and enjoyment of nature is at risk of being inundated by the Army Corps of Engineers for water storage. Bear Creek Lake, an artificial reservoir built in the 1970s, was originally erected for flood control, as a plan to prevent future floods in the Denver Metropolitan Area after a series of disastrous floods in prior years. However, as Colorado plunges further into perennial drought, the need for flood control becomes minimal, and the need for water for new housing developments becomes inexorable. Denver is losing water rapidly, while continuing to expand, and therefore driving up the need for water. The northeastern Colorado cities of Dacono, Brighton, and Longmont in particular are searching for sources of water for new housing developments, and have turned to an expansion of Bear Creek Lake for their needed water. This plan, however, contains many flaws, not least of which is the countless animals that would be rehomed. Other issues include the major economic blow the destruction of the park would deal; the loss of a beloved, affordable, and accessible open space; the question of where the water to flood the park would even come from; and the vitality of the dam, including if it would be able to hold 11 times more water (the plan surmises the reservoir can contain up to 22,000 acre feet of water, compared to its 2,000 current acre feet). The expansion would destroy nearly the whole park, including unique, important riparian, prairie, and wetland habitat where many animals live.

Fortunately, several BCLP enthusiasts, from bicyclists to trail runners, bird watchers, and equestrians, have teamed up to create Save Bear Creek Lake Park, an initiative I was lucky enough to join fairly early into its existence, and have since become one of the main contributing members, speaking to the Lakewood City Council regarding this issue, in particular, the herps that live in the part. Following my speech, the council came out in support of the movement, and issued a proclamation of support for Save BCLP.

Going into my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to do a senior Capstone project, dedicated to helping the community in some way and making a difference in the region. I willingly took on this challenge and knew I'd do something to help Save BCLP, and, naturally, connected my love for herps with the movement. I promptly started my project in the spring of 2022. My project was a year-long herpetofauna survey, in collaboration with the park, its rangers and coordinators, members of Colorado Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (COPARC), and some of my friends whom I was able to introduce to Save BCLP and the amazing, underrated world of herps.

Through my project, done in freezing snow, broiling sun, crackling thunderstorms, and everything in between, I recorded and photographed well over 100 individual herps, totaling to 13 total species, some of which are hardly ever recorded in the park, such as the western milksnake and prairie rattlesnake. My survey established that BCLP is an important ground for reproduction, as I found hatchlings of almost every single species, and had some particularly exciting encounters with common snapping turtles digging nests, boreal chorus frogs calling out for mates, and tiger salamanders trekking through the snow to lay eggs. The herps of BCLP have mated, hibernated, and foraged in the same area for generations, and with the park underwater, all of the herps in the park would either drown, or be left homeless and lost in the winter, unable to find the hibernaculum they return to every year.

Using the citizen science app iNaturalist, I organized and shared my finds in a public project that herp enthusiasts and conservationists were able to view and support. I recorded data through photos, as well as gathering important information like location, size, relative age, and field disposition.

One particularly important discovery through my survey was the presence of rattlesnakes in the park, a species very rarely seen there before, except near the park's border. Both of the specimens I saw at BCLP this summer were at least half a mile inside the park and were likely there on a semi-permanent basis. After speaking with park rangers and local herp experts, I came to the conclusion that the snakes--extremely common to the north of the park--were forced south into the park because of a new housing development being built in the vast field they undoubtedly lived, fed, and mated in to the north of BCLP. Despite being unfavorable for rattlesnakes and ripe with competition from other snakes (namely bullsnakes), the rattlesnakes were left with no other choice to emigrate to the park and find new feeding grounds. This particular conundrum clearly demonstrates the threat poised by flooding the park and destroying vital habitat for so many animals. They will be forced to move into suburban, highly populated areas, which for potentially dangerous species like rattlesnakes, is a big concern. Because of this, the future of BCLP snakes is just as important for the majority of people who hate snakes, as it is for the minority who love them.

This project has opened the door for me to participate in many exciting wildlife opportunities, like reptile surveys with COPARC across Colorado, elk surveys with City of Lakewood Parks, and youth education with Eagles Nest Owls Roost Outdoor Education Camp through Colorado State University's 4H extension in my county. This project has developed my love for wildlife and conservation, and has taught me valuable lessons about data gathering and citizen science activism, as well as helping develop my interpersonal skills. My survey has excited me for my future career in natural resource management, in which I plan to study at Oregon State University, and to continue a life of loving wildlife and advocating for this silent majority relying on humans for their health and safety. This project provided me an opportunity to use my passion for wildlife for something greater than my own personal enjoyment, and demonstrated to me the power of using a strong passion for the greater good of the community, and for myself. I loved every second I spent in the field photographing wildlife, and I cannot wait to participate in more surveys in the next year and beyond.

Bear Creek Lake Park is an incredibly important local gem to so many, and provides some of the only trails that are accessible for families, people with health impairments, amateur nature lovers (like me), and hosts people from every background imaginable. It is the heart of the west Denver community and introduces people to the outdoors every year, with events meant to engage young people in biking, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing. Without this special park, which so many, including myself, rely on, Denver would be losing one of its last true natural spaces and an outlet into nature that countless people count on to escape the city. And the many animals, birds, mammals, herps, fish, and invertebrates that rely on the park for home, feeding, and mating, will be displaced, killed, or left for dead, forced to either move into the surrounding suburban areas (causing an increase in clashes with humans), or perish in the land that once housed them and provided a sanctuary along the front range. My survey, and my collaboration with the City of Lakewood and Save Bear Creek Lake Park, has hopefully contributed valuable data to help save this haven for so many animals, and inspired my community to appreciate our local herpetofauna, and the importance of them in our natural spaces, and the greater importance of Bear Creek Lake Park to both the animals who call it home and the thousands of humans who love it dearly.
Date: December 9, 2022 Views: 2317 File size: 18.6kb, 187.6kb : 670 x 893
Hours Volunteered: ~100
Volunteers: 20
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17, 16-50
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 252.524
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 2.23
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