MPEC drums in the Winter Solstice!

About 30 of us acknowledged the "return of the light" drumming around a warm fire in front of MPEC's Horseshoe Lodge as daylight began to slip away on Sunday evening. Winter solstice, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight and the most amount of darkness, marks the lengthening of each day as the sun begins climbing in the southern sky.


MPEC's Winter Wonderland

Winter has arrived with gusto to Pueblo Mountain Park (and lots of other places, so I've heard). The last few days' snow, not to mention the 14 below temps the other night, say that autumn is now just a memory. Snow total for this season is 55" so far, the snowiest start to winter the park has seen in several years. I took this photo this morning: sun not yet shining on the landscape, temp at 2 below, looking out over the park and mountainous backdrop from my property just east and up the hill from the park.
Happy winter, Ranger Dave


It's been snowing!

Winter snowfall is off to a good start so far...October saw around 30", and this past Sunday's 12" brings the total past 40". And to think, the entire 2002 winter saw only about 48" of snow...yes, that was a dry year! Average for the park for an entire winter is around 115", so here we go. The pond was trying to put on its winter ice several weeks ago, but a warm early November kept the ice at bay. The cold temps that followed the last storm just may have the pond "officially" frozen for the year...I'll keep watching.
Here's what the pond looked like this morning, plus a yucca in the snow.


Horseshoe Lodge hosts first overnight retreat!

After months and months of so many details and so much work creating MPEC's new Retreat Center at Horseshoe Lodge, we got to do a hands-on test of the new facility. I am so pleased to say that it went really well...comments from 13 women who travelled from many places, including North Carolina, Florida, California, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario were very positive and confirmed what we already believed...MPEC has built a beautiful facility that has taken the 1930s work of the New Deal Era workers who built the Lodge and made it into a lovely facility that will be a lovely place to retreat to Nature for many many years.

Upon returning home to Wisconsin, Lee Miller put at her blog, "What did I experience? No hub-bub. Beauty everywhere. Clean air. Brilliant stars at night. Pine trees that tower high into the sky. Animal tracks. Hiking trails. Ponds and bubbling brooks. Beautiful snow. Sunshine. And the lodge - full of cozy comfort. It was majestic, just majestic."
Jo Hatcher said, "Wow. What an honor to be the first person to sleep in the beautiful Hideaway Room. The bear decor in the room kept me company and I felt peaceful and relaxed. Seeing the snow right outside the windows was like magic, an elixir that I needed for my tired and weary self. It was simply a treasure to be in this cozy room. Knowing that it had been decorated by loving hands from a special community of people was sacred to me."


It's been a long time since I blogged...

...to say we've been busy is an understatement. The last couple of months have been so full at MPEC, dominated by gearing up for and starting the 2009/2010 Earth Studies program for all Pueblo City Schools 5th graders, and completing Phase 2 of the Horseshoe Lodge.
Painting, furniture, kitchen needs, and creating the many systems to support our new overnight facilities are why I haven't blogged. I am very happy to write that the west wing's 11 overnight rooms plus 8 restrooms plus a couple of breakout rooms plus the fully upgraded kitchen plus the beautiful dining area all look great. Many generous volunteers and donors stepped forward to bring this home stretch part of Phase 2 to completion. We just put it all to the test with a 5-day retreat rental this past weekend, when 13 women from around the US and Canada arrived for a retreat-coach training. All in all, the Lodge and our systems performed very well - the rooms were warm and the showers were hot (thanks to our biomass heating system), the food was great, and all had a great time. We still have a few kinks to work out, but Phase 2 of the Lodge is essentially complete, save for a few projects currently in the works.
Simultaneous with all of this has been a great start to our Earth Studies program...nearly every week day since the last week of August, 60 - 75 students are in the park for hands-on environmental education. New this year, all students from the Beulah School are participating in Earth Studies as well (we modified the curriculum to accommodate all K-8 students).
The park itself has seen October bring quite a bit of snow. This morning's 1.8" brought the total snowfall for the month to almost 19", and it's been snowing all day, with projections for snow through tonight and into tomorrow. October 2009 snowfall looks like it will top 24", which is more snow than October has seen in many years. This may be a great year or snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the park.
I hope to blog a bunch more in the coming weeks, sharing photos of the recent weeks of programs and lodge efforts...the rooms have turned out beautiful, and we'll soon be ready to take rentals. And blogs on the park's natural areas, as this fall morphs into winter (which seems to be happening early this year). Happy (snowy) trails, Dave


It's a Colorful Painting Festival at the Horseshoe Lodge

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We've just completed 9 days of painting fun with volunteers coming from all over to help us paint the 21 rooms and 340 feet of hallway : one coat of primer and one and two coats in some rooms. YES..IT'S HUGE AND PAINT IS FLYING EVERYWHERE.

Plus on Saturday local artists came to create murals and others special art pieces to grace some of the rooms. This is going to make the Retreat Center at MPEC the place to come for rest, learning, and inspiration. Here are some of the views of the past few days.

The hallway was killer...and took primer plus paint by the 5 gallon bucket.
Here is our weekend Park Caretaker Beth Walsh donating time to help with the task.

It got fun when the Artists arrived to get creative. Pictured above is two of them in the Celestial Seasons room that will inspire it's guests to contemplate the night sky.

Butterflies are important ways to learn about Nature and are something we teach about at MPEC. What a better way to help people see some of the local species than to create a Butterfly Bath for moments of contemplation at the end of a long hiking day?

Even some of the much neglected historic picnic tables cried out for sanding and paint renewal and our volunteers popped to it and responded with gusto.

AND NEXT? the 25 new doors arrived and Tuesday, August 18 the staining and polyurethaning of all of them will begin. stop in for an hour before your hike if you can...every hour could help make a huge difference with these doors


MPEC's Summer Busier Than Ever!

So much is happening at MPEC these days (except lots of blogging, apparently). A sampling: we are facilitating our final 2 camps this week; the overnight rooms in the west wing are nearly ready to paint; July's rain continues a nice wet summer; and our Yoga in Nature Hike went very well this past Saturday. And so many other programs have taken place, including Nature Toddlers, Sketching in Nature Workshop, and Family Nature Gathering. MPEC continues to be busy busy busy providing opportunities for people to learn about and connect with Nature.


MPEC Drums in the Summer!

A cool wet day turned into a gorgeous solstice evening at Pueblo Mountain Park. The fair skies brought many folks, youngsters through not-so-youngsters to our summer solstice drum circle. Rhythms, dancing, singing, and hoola-hooping were some of the ways 50 or so folks welcomed summer.


Volunteers Transform Devil's Canyon Trail!!!

On May 30 and 31, over 100 volunteers came to Pueblo Mountain Park to work...and work they did. Guided by the terrific Denver-based group, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), these volunteers transformed the tired and badly-eroded first few hundred yards of the Devil's Canyon Trail into a beautiful, welcoming trail. After improving the muddy first couple of hundred feet, crews closed off the old trail and constructed a few hundred yards of brand new trail, built right into the steep slope of Douglas and white fir. The result is a trail we all are very proud of. Pictured here are crews getting ready on Saturday morning in front of the Lodge; getting down and dirty on the trail; MPEC's Ranger John Oates teaching a game to the project's Young Stewards (lots of families came out for the weekend - parents worked on the trails while the youngsters learned about Nature and did their own service project in the park); and the finished trail! Please come up and hike the new trail for yourself!!!


Spring Arrives!

If you love spring, it's hard not to love these splendid May days in Pueblo Mountain Park. Wildflowers are kicking in a bit later than usual, but the last half of May looks like it should be terrific for seeing lots of different species in bloom. Pictured here is Larkspur Violet, fairly widespread in sunny grassy areas among ponderosa pines, but actually quite rare outside of the park. The snag (standing dead tree) sports several cavities (created by woodpeckers over the last few years) and a violet-green swallow on one of the branches. As I was taking this photo, several swallows were swooping around the tree, and a couple of pygmy nuthatches were noisily checking out one of the cavities as a nest site. The green landscape, wildflowers, birds in breeding mode all say spring - what a joy is spring!


MPEC's Biomass Boilers are burning!

Our new biomass boilers are being put into operation this week. Here are some photos of MPEC Maintenance Supervisor Rick Langdon and Director Dave Van Manen firing up one of the two GARN 2000 boilers that we installed this winter. Each boiler is surrounded by 2000 gallons of water that is heated by burning wood. The heat is transferred into the Lodge's hot water heating system as well as into the domestic hot water tanks. The wood comes from thinning our very overgrown forests. Ponderosa pine forests, prior to being managed to eliminate all fires, used to burn every 10 - 15 years (usually started by lightning). These fires kept the forest much less dense than it is today; less fuel usually kept the "cool" fire on the ground (ponderosa pine trees have thick bark and can handle being scorched and still survive), resulting in an open forest with a grassy understory. A century of fire suppression has created dense overcrowded forests that are much more prone to catastrophic wildfires. By removing some of the trees, we are creating a healthier and safer forest, plus fuel for heating the Lodge (reducing our propane consumption to almost nothing). A win win for all!


Spring Wildflowers!

I took a hike on yesterday's lovely afternoon and was happy to find several blooming wildflowers along the trail. Since February's first spring beauties, the dryness had kept many other species from blooming. But the recent moisture has brought many plants to bloom. Here are three species I saw along the Tower and Mace Trails: mountain bladderpod (the yellow flower), kinnikinnick (white and pink), and Pasque flower (lavender). Bladderpod is a mustard that can bloom as early as mid March. Kinnikinnick flowers become red berries that are a favorite food of bears (it is also called bearberry). And "Pasque" means Easter in Latin - true to its name, it is in bloom as Easter approaches. Happy Spring!


Spring snow at Horseshoe Lodge!

Here's a couple of photos taken Thursday morning, April 2, on my morning walk to the office (after 3" of now fell the evening before...a lovely early spring morning - early spring in this part of the world usually means snow), including the morning sun over a snowy Horseshoe Lodge. When I think of my many years of commuting to Pueblo, or getting to various places around the country for work as a musician, or my subway or bus commutes to Brooklyn Tech High School, Hunter College, and A & R Recording Studio in New York, I must say, my five minute walking commute to the office is a real treat!

As March Becomes April at MPEC!

It has been quite a week here at MPEC...along with our Earth Studies program getting back in gear with CSAC testing and spring break behind us, Phase 2 of the Lodge Project has begun. And, Phase 1B (Biomass Boiler Project) is about complete...we still have to pour some cement around the new building, but the boilers are in and this coming Monday (April 6), we plan do do the first firing of the boilers. Here are photos taken around MPEC and Pueblo Mountain Park this past week (spring snow, west wing framing, biomass boilers).



I am happy to say that the winter storm that just moved through Colorado dropped 14" of snow on the Mountain Park. We're still way below an average year on our snowfall totals, but the snow's 1.26" of moisture should do wonders for greening up the landscape as the new spring unfolds.


Pond is Ice-Free!

The pond in the Mountain Park is officially free of its winter ice on March 10 of this year. Looking back over my records, this is over 2 weeks earlier than usual. Last year the ice free date was March 29, which is more typical, as it is usually the last few days of March when the pond's winter ice disappears. A dry winter so far, and an early thaw for winter 2009. Might we have a wet spring?


Busy times at MPEC!

The last month has been full of many projects and activities at MPEC. One thing we haven't been doing is shoveling or plowing snow - less than 3" of snow fell in the park in February. We are all hoping that March delivers lots of wet snow, although the first few days of March have been so warm with lots of wind. Our fingers are crossed. Here's a picture of the park's "ready-for-lots-of-snow" landscape!
Along with lots of Earth Studies sessions (we're teaching the basics of birding this session), Thursday evening yoga, guided hikes and other programs, we've been working on our Interpretive Center. We've been building display booths and getting displays put together. Here is our bird display coming together. There are feeders outside the windows for up close viewing, which the birds have happily found.

I am most pleased to report that we have successfully raised the funds for Phase 2 of the Lodge Project. So, as the biomass boiler project progresses towards completion (I cautiously project that we'll be heating the lodge with our new biomass boilers by the end of March), we will begin construction on the west wing in just a couple of weeks. By this fall, the west wing's overnight rooms should be up and running, along with our kitchen and dining area. We are beginning to look at planning some multi-day programs for the fall, and, if you have an event (e.g. family reunion, business or other retreat, etc.), please give us a call if you'd like to schedule a rental. This photo of the west wing is one of the "before" photos, and I look forward to sharing the "after" photos in the not-too-distant future.