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A View From Above

April 06, 2017

Earlier this week, a coworker and I had the pleasure of joining an Ecoflight over the Spring Valley property. The property is located just above the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus near Glenwood Springs. The flight was coordinated by a CMC student whose senior thesis centers around investigating the ecological health of the property, and other passengers included a photographer for the Post Independent, students of photography, and CMC Sustainability Bachelor Degree candidates. AGCI staff were invited to join the flight because of our partnership with the Spring Valley property in relation to the iRON project. One of AGCI's newest soil moisture stations is located on the property, and we have explored the site on foot (or on skis) on numerous occasions.

Seeing the property from the air, however, gave me a completely different perspective on the area's ecology, literally and figuratively. If it weren't for the distinctive water tower on the western edge, I would have struggled to recognize where our station is located. As the small plane banked, offering a clear view of the broad plateau, I was surprised to note the proportion of sage brush vs. pinyon and juniper cover on the land: there was far more sage than I had pictured. The multi-use approach to the property's management also stood out to me more clearly than it had from the ground. The scale of the ponds seemed larger, and I had a better sense of the extent and location of the dirt roads or trails that allow access to far points of the property.

With the iRON project, I often slip into thinking at a site scale: the scope of land I can see looking out from one of the stations, perhaps augmented by the 100 square meter reach of the Modified Whitaker plots we use to monitor vegetation, but the intent of the iRON is not to think in small, representative points only. The project is called the the interactive Roaring Fork Observation Network, and the fact that the 9 stations straddle the large elevational span of the Roaring Fork Watershed is intentional. Each station is independently interesting in terms of tracking changing conditions over time or in terms of looking at the interplay between different bioclimatic variables. However, the network is also intended to be considered as a whole--investigating questions about how water moves through a mountain watershed, identifying differences between hydrology across elevations and ecozones, and considering processes such as the relationship between snowmelt and streamflow. The opportunity to not just consider a station from a landscape scale, but to actually be able to view it at a landscape scale was a remarkable experience. The flight provided a fresh approach that will continue to shape my thinking moving forward: about the station, the other uses the area is designated for, and potential for future learning and exploration!