The deck’s area is just below the summit on a little bluff that offers a lovely vista of the Beartooth Mountains. It is a great place to rest, take in the view and snap a few photos. Unfortunately, folks were trampling the Shoshonea pulvinata, so some Cody Middle School kids installed a platform and a plaque asking people to keep off the flora.
Shoshonea pulvinata is like a mat with hundreds or thousands of individual plants sprouting tiny yellow flowers. Shoshonea is on the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management State Sensitive Species List. Heart Mountain is a mighty popular place, so the plant needs protection.
“We’ve already had 500 people up (this year),” said Brian Peters, who manages the Nature Conservancy’s Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve with his wife, Carrie Peters. Nearly 2,000 people hike the Heart Mountain trail each year, Brian Peters said.
His aim is to help youth connect with nature by undertaking projects on the mountain.
“I’m really hoping to get all the (Big Horn) Basin area schools involved,” he said.
By tackling projects, people can gain a sense of connection with the land, Peters said.
There are plenty of projects for youngsters to undertake. He can gear the work to a particular group of students or other youth group’s expertise.
For example, a welding class could install steel railings where fencing is needed or an ecology class could erect fencing around a fragile riparian area. Folks tasked with community service would be welcome to pick up litter, Peters said.
The platform builders are summer school students, doing what he calls a “Project Based Learning,” said Sean Murray, who teaches math at Cody Middle School.
What the youngsters learn in the classroom can be applied in the field, Murray said.
“A nice place for people to picnic,” said paraeducator Bonnye Borden.
The platform provides a perfect place to catch one’s breath while taking in the mountain panorama.
“I think they’re learning more about perseverance,” joked woodshop teacher Anthony Fink.
On June 25, the girls made their third trip up the mountain. One more trip was held two days later as a sort of final hike that some adults were invited to join, Fink said. It wasn’t easy slogging up the steep trail, but the girls were game.
There are 12 girls and 11 boys in the program, and they work in separate units. When the girls are on the mountain, the boys work at the memorial garden at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center and vice versa, Fink said.
Teachers Dawn Beaudrie and Amy Carpenter oversee the boys at the center, Fink said.
The completed platform is a sturdy redwood deck with posts to support a rope railing. Each plank has a student’s name etched on the end to recognize their efforts.
All that remains to be done is adding a bench and a sign asking folks to stay off the Shoshonea pulvinata.
As the girls worked at the site last week, pine tree branches swayed gently and the air was filled with a refreshing scent of pine resin. Almost within reach was Heart Mountain’s face, a huge vertical slab of jagged pinkish granite.
The wall is pockmarked and fractured from millions of years of pelting rain and expanding ice. It appears as though the Beartooth Plateau is at a lower elevation than the deck. Shadows cast by clouds seem to undulate over the hills like immense magic carpets of the deepest purple.
Two teachers and two paraeducators supervise the girls who were talking, laughing and giving the deck a finishing touch.
“It looks great,” Peters said, examining the girls’ handiwork. “It will definitely get some use.”
The teachers and students had fun.
“It’s a good project,” Fink said. “We’re enjoying it.”
If an adult or youth group would like to volunteer for a project, give the ranch a call at 754-8446.