There wasn’t as much ice covering Barr Lake during the ninth annual Eagle Festival this year, so the bald eagles that usually fish from the frozen surface soared overhead instead. But people still came out from across the Front Range to ogle through binoculars and see a couple of rescued raptors up close.
Eric Cameron, 8, and his dad, Rob, attended the event on Saturday to check them out. They’ve engaged in a new “ritual” lately, heading over to Washington Park to see the eagles there every Saturday.
“They’re cool because they’re predators,” Eric said. “I like dinosaurs and other animals. I like DNA.”
Eric is interested in wildlife and science; he’s been following recent discussions to bring the extinct dodo back to life. Rob wants to support his curiosity, and Eagle Fest was a good place to do that.
Park officials want Barr Lake to become Colorado’s third state park with “Gold Standard” status from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Packing out trash, keeping a distance from natural areas and respecting wildlife has always been a part of rangers’ jobs, said park manager Michelle Seubert, but gaining gold status is a way to do that more explicitly.
Seubert said her team at Barr Lake has been working on this designation for the last year. They’ll submit their application at the end of the month. Educational opportunities, like those sneakily inserted amongst the bald eagle mania, help them build their case.
“We’ve done it all along as rangers, but we just didn’t call it out,” she said. “It just shows that we’ve taken that next step.”
It’s also a bigger deal than ever, since parks like Barr Lake have been inundated with visitors since the pandemic shut down many entertainment options. Visitation and revenues at Barr Lake jumped about 50 percent since COVID-19 arrived in Colorado.
“We had a record visitation year,” she told us. “We need to manage our spaces, and I think that’s even more important now.”
These lessons will help keep the park clean and protect the critters that live there. It also may help protect birds beyond Barr Lake.
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Devin Jaffee, founder of the conservation group Nature’s Educators, brought a golden eagle and a juvenile bald eagle to give kids like Eric a more personal experience with the birds. Throwing trash out of a moving car can endanger their wild cousins, she told a group gathered beneath a pavilion. Garbage draws squirrels and rats close to roadways. When predatory birds swoop down to eat the scavengers, they run the risk of getting hit by cars.
That’s how Gaia, the golden eagle, ended up in Jaffee’ care. The bird was struck by a vehicle and became blind in one eye. She can’t hunt anymore, so now she must live in captivity. In exchange, she helps teach kids to take better care of the habitats where she once flew freely.
“Hopefully though the years they gain even more appreciation for seeing animals in wild places like this,” Jaffee said of the presentations. “Hopefully they’ll be more inclined to act in conservation and be respectful and love these animals.”
The many bald eagles that winter at Barr Lake will stick around for a few more months, so there’s still time to go see them. Seubert said they just started laying eggs, which means baby eagles will be learning to fly in a few weeks. Just remember to pack it out when you go.