Science event draws thousands of visitors
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — In the age of video games and handheld virtual reality, it’s not always easy to drag kids out of the house and into the great outdoors. But an Aug. 24-25 BioBlitz at Rocky Mountain National Park drew more than 5,000 participants, including both leading researchers as well as Front Range school kids who had a chance to visit the park for the first time.
Along with some scientific research that will pay dividends for months and years, the two-day event was marked by an amazing number of personal discoveries, said chief of resource stewardship Ben Bobowski, who coordinated the bioblitz.
“So many folks are so close but they never get the opportunity to discover the park,” Bobowski said, explaining that the park really focused on getting good grass roots involvement for the bioblitz, a 24-hour event when scientists, families, students, teachers team up to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible.
A bioblitz helps establish a snapshot of biological conditions by inventorying species across an area’s ecoystems. According to the Park Service, the Rocky Mountain National Park event documented 490 species, and organizers expect the number to increase significantly over the next few months as state-of-the-art testing of the collected samples continues.
While Rocky Mountain National Park has been well-studied, the recent effort added several new species, including a lizard, nine insects and 13 nonvascular plants. Researchers are verifying these possible new records for the park. The big brown bat species was officially confirmed at BioBlitz 2012.
“One of the other things we tried to focus on … was trying to get people to look a little bit closer, so a lot of our focus was on insects,” Bobowski said. “It was fun to see the school kids flipping over rocks and looking at the macroinvertebrates,” he said, referring to aquatic bugs that form the base of the ecosystem in the park’s streams and rivers.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for the public to meet and work with scientists and to understand and appreciate what makes Rocky Mountain National Park such a special and biologically rich place,” said park superintendent Vaughn Baker. “For many people, especially schoolchildren, this was their first visit to the park, and it was exciting to have them experience it with amazing scientists and naturalists as their guides.”
“Watching scientists, students and the general public in the field exploring and making discoveries put a smile on my face,” said John Francis, National Geographic’s vice president for Research, Conservation and Exploration. “Scientists joined students and residents from the surrounding communities and celebrated their unique roles as members of the natural systems where they live. It was also exciting to see new technology and smartphone apps being used in the field to document and identify species finds.”
National Geographic has had a close relationship with the National Park Service since the Service’s inception; the Society helped draft legislation to establish the Service in 1916. National Geographic has given grants to establish or sustain national parks and has extensively covered the parks in its media for nearly a century.
Rocky Mountain National Park was the sixth in a series of 10 annual BioBlitzes to be hosted by National Geographic and the National Park Service, leading up to the Park Service’s centennial in 2016. During closing ceremonies the BioBlitz flag was passed to Carol Clark, superintendent of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, where the seventh BioBlitz will take place May 17-18, 2013.
The first BioBlitz was held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., in 2007; the second took place at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California in 2008. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was the site of the third BioBlitz in 2009; Biscayne National Park, just outside Miami, was the 2010 site; and Saguaro National Park in Tucson hosted the 2011 BioBlitz.
The Rocky Mountain National Park BioBlitz was made possible through the generous support of foundations and corporations. Through National Geographic’s partnership efforts, the 2012 presenting sponsors were Verizon Wireless and GEICO. Additional corporate and foundation support came from Southwest Airlines and the Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation.