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Durango Nature Studies holds Moonlight Hikes

April 1, 2002

By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the Herald

On an evening in late-March, about 20 hikers stood above Fort Lewis College on Raiders Ridge sipping hot chocolate and watching the full moon rise. Once it was up, they looked at Jupiter through a telescope and munched on brownies.

Then Mark Everson, a Durango Nature Studiesí naturalist leading the hike, told everyone to position themselves with a good view of the brilliant orb while he told a mythological story about a rabbit in the moon.

"Itís like Scouts for adults," said Crystal Snyder, a 32-year-old participant in the hike, which took place March 28. "I loved it."

Comments like that please the people at Durango Nature Studies and the San Juan National Forest, which funds the monthly full-moon hikes.

Mark Everson, naturalist for Durango Nature Studies, left, leads a group on a full-moon hike up Horse Gulch toward Raider Ridge on March 28. Since October, Durango Nature Studies has been offering the full-moon hikes, which teach participants about local ecology and folklore surrounding the full moon. The next full-moon hike is scheduled for April 26.

The hikes started last fall with $2,350 from the Forest Service and the intent to hold four to six hikes.

However, the program proved so popular the hikes are now held every full moon.

"Itís been a rip-roaring success," said Cheryl Wiescamp, executive director of Durango Nature Studies. "Weíre amazed."

The hikes are held in a different location each month and are attended by people of all ages and fitness levels, she said. During winter, hikers strap on snowshoes Ė thanks to a donation of about 60 pairs of snowshoes from Grand Junctionís Little Bear Snowshoe Co.

Durango Nature Studies was established in 1994 to "bring nature into the lives of people of all ages," Wiescamp said. The organization is fueled by members and more than 100 volunteers, such as Durango resident Kelly Palmer, 27, who has worked with the group for more than a year.

Palmer, who toted refreshments on last weekís hike, said working with Durango Nature Studies is probably the most fun sheís had volunteering.

"Itís nice to get outside after a day in the office," she said.

At the head of the group, Everson frequently stopped to let hikers catch their breath while he talked about ecological changes around the Vernal Moon, the name for the March full moon that reflects the shift to spring.

"Thereís a lot we can learn by being outside and paying attention," Everson said as he gestured to a cottonwood tree. "Are the cottonwood branches golden all winter? Did anyone notice?" He then said the hike started at dusk because the full moon always rises about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset. Being positioned directly opposite the sun is what makes the moon appear full.

Eversonís passion and knowledge are just one reason why Durango resident Tracy Korb, 33, has attended three full-moon hikes.

"Iíd never night-hiked before, so it was really cool," she said. "Both times before I brought my headlamp, but didnít need it because the moon was so bright."

Korb said she reserves a spot on the hikes well ahead of time, since the groups are limited to 20 people. Eight of the spots are reserved for members of Durango Nature Studies.

"Iím sure they could fill (each hike) with 100 people, but keeping it small maintains the atmosphere and integrity of the experience," said Kristine Borchers, conservation education coordinator for the San Juan National Forest.

The next full moon hike is scheduled for April 26 at Sand Canyon.

For more information, call 382-9244.

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