Warm up your spear-throwing arm and lace up those hiking boots! The City of Fort Collins will soon begin its celebration of the Smithsonian’s 80th anniversary of the archaeological Folsom culture digs at the Lindenmeier site on what is now Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Kickoff events will occur at Soapstone the weekend of May 17-18, but the City’s Master Naturalist core of volunteers will lead activities all summer.
The city’s Museum of Discovery will feature various interpretive experiences as well.
As reported in the December issue of the North Forty News, these more generic public events will be followed Oct. 19-21 with a symposium for the truly archaeologically obsessed.
Volunteer Brian Carroll helped inspire and organize much of the enthusiasm for the celebration and took on the task of assembling a facsimile of the tent and its contents used by the expedition. He found Denver Tent, the company that bought out Brooks Tent and Awning, the fabricator of the original tents, and had them construct a Doppelganger. Using expedition photographs and various online resources, he compiled materials to outfit the director’s tent (used by expedition leader, Frank Roberts), a cook tent, and sleeping tents. Volunteers will erect the director’s tent near the parking area at the Lindenmeier Overlook and give visitors a peek at field life in 1935. After the weekend of May 17, the tent will matriculate to the Museum of Discovery and become an ongoing exhibit.
Families who visit Soapstone on May 17 and 18 can learn how to throw an atlatl (a high-tech device for spear throwing 11,000 years ago), make commemorative flags, excavate replica artifacts, watch flint knapper Butch Kasubick emulate the Folsom artists’ skill fashioning stone, and listen to talks about the expedition and the much later Homesteading activities near the site. From 9 a.m. to noon on May 17, I will lead a group of local artists to a spot where the expedition artist, Edwin Cassedy, made beautiful watercolor sketches. We will take our own measure of the Soapstone landscape. Details of this and all events during the summer can be found in the City’s Tracks & Trails brochure, which should be available by the kickoff weekend in both print and PDF forms at the city’s website: www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/naturalists
The above activities certainly look back on an important event in scientific and Colorado history. What about the looking forward aspect of the celebration? Natural areas senior environmental planner Daylan Figgs will speak about the future of bison and the black-footed ferret on Soapstone.
The black-footed ferret, once endemic on Western prairies, teetered on the brink of extinction until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center north of Wellington helped coax the reproduction of a handful of survivors. Now there are at least 350 breeding adults at four reintroduction sites in Arizona, South Dakota, and Wyoming. (See www.blackfootedferret.org) According to Figgs, if all goes well with the signing of a state bill and subsequent meetings with adjacent land-owners, a wild ferret population will once again take their place in the ecology of Colorado’s grasslands.
Figgs also reports that the City of Fort Collins will continue working with Colorado State University over the next year or so to expedite plans for restoring bison to the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Colorado State plans to use genetic material from Yellowstone bison stock (that does not contain cattle genes in the mix) and create a disease-free herd that could be introduced into a 500-acre site on the natural area that could later be expanded by another 1,500 acres.
Another area of concern regarding the future of Soapstone revolves around how oil interests could impact how this natural area will serve Larimer County residents in the future. Currently, the properties owned by the City of Fort Collins (Soapstone Prairie and the adjacent Meadow Springs Ranch) and Larimer County (Red Mountain Open Space) are considered to be “split estates” — that is, the city and county own the surface, but other entities, including the State Land Board and various oil and gas companies own mineral rights.
In 2011, the land board, which is charged with generating revenue from mineral rights to help fund K-12 education, enlisted The Nature Conservancy to help ensure that use of the land below ground for revenue wouldn’t compromise recreational and conservation efforts above ground. The goal is to generate recommendations that will result in “net-zero impact” to the conservation values of these 60,000 combined acres in northern Larimer County.
Starting this May, prepare to be inspired by the rich history of Larimer County’s past. Also, take a moment to dream. This vast acreage holds great potential for leading us into a richer future on many fronts, if we make careful, well-considered choices along the way.