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High Country roads move into rockfall season as snow begins to melt

As winter fades toward spring, it’s time for another season: rockfall season.

The Vail Valley was hit last week by a pair of rockfall episodes — one along Interstate 70 in Dowd Canyon, and another on U.S. Highway 24 on Battle Mountain.

While locations can change, transportation officials prepare for rockfall season each year as the snow melts around the High Country.

Bob Group is the Colorado Department of Transportation’s geohazards manager. Group noted that moisture levels increase in the fall and spring. That can loosen soils, leading to slides. In the spring, melting snow seeps into cracks in rocks, then freezes at night, expanding and sometimes breaking loose rocks and boulders.

Group noted that a lot of highways in western Colorado are flanked by sedimentary rock, including shale and sandstone.

Along the I-70 and Highway 24 corridors, maintenance crews keep a watchful eye for falling rocks. Snowplow drivers can push smaller rocks off the road. Group noted that during warm spells, plow drivers will patrol the roads looking for fallen rocks.

Larger events require moving front-end loaders and excavators to a site. Really big rocks have to be drilled and blasted to break them into truckable pieces.

Working two angles

Group said his team works in a couple of directions.

The first is an emergency response to active events. Those are slides that transportation officials expect but don’t know exactly where the rocks will fall.

That response includes site cleanup and adding additional protection measures — including roadside rockfall barriers — when possible.

The other direction is “proactive risk reduction.” Group said work is concentrated in areas where there’s been more activity. That work also includes obtaining funding for mitigation efforts including mesh screens and rockfall barriers for slide zones in the higher reaches of canyon walls.

“We go through a process of trying to assess where the highest risk levels are,” Group said.

One of those risky areas is along Highway 24. That stretch of road “has been an issue,” Group said. There were some mitigation measures in place, but a rockfall in the summer of 2022 destroyed the barriers that were in place at the time.

A Colorado Department of Transportation crew looks to assess and repair damage to a rockfall net following a 2022 slide on Battle Mountain.
Colorado Department of Transportation/Courtesy photo

But Glenwood Canyon is the best-known hazard zone in this part of the state.

And while a pair of long closures have come in the years since the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire, Group said the canyon has always been a challenge.

Large boulders have punched holes in the road deck, and slides have been part of the canyon’s geography just about since the highway through the canyon was finished in 1992.

Group said the days after the Grizzly Creek fire brought slides due to the burn-off of vegetation.

The summer of 2021 brought another lengthy closure when a massive debris flow closed the highway, the recreation path and affected the course of the Colorado River in the canyon.

That debris flow required essentially three projects: road repair, debris cleanout and dredging debris from the river.

“We had concerns about the new river elevation,” Group said, adding that flooding could be one offshoot.

It’s better — for now

After all that work, the region had a decent summer in 2002, at least from a wildfire and rainfall perspective.

Work in the canyon now includes more mitigation measures to protect from debris flows. Existing barriers, as many as 20 of them, had to be cleaned out and repaired to ensure they’re properly functioning now.

Some of those debris flow barriers stand as tall as 12 feet. In addition, there are more wire mesh and other rock barriers, along with storage space for material that comes down from the canyon walls.

Group said the result of all that work is that the canyon’s defense mechanisms — and natural conditions — are about where they were in the summer of 2019.

Still, he added, the canyon closures aren’t over.

The I-70 Coalition is a nonprofit consortium of businesses and local governments dedicated to improving traffic flows through the mountain corridor.

Coalition director Margaret Bowes praised transportation officials for keeping a close eye on potential danger zones.

But, she added, “Mother Nature always rules.”

Community play by Craig author combines comedy, classic myths

Most heroes of ancient mythology met a less-than-ideal end, but in an upcoming theatrical production, it’s all laughs all the time.

The Luttrell Barn Cultural Center will host two free shows Thursday, March 30, for “It’s Greek to Me,” an original play written by Craig writer David Morris.

Morris taught English and theater for decades at Craig Middle School, with his students performing many of his own short plays.

The retired educator — also a considerable figure in local pottery, among other artistic pursuits — said he still has plenty of material, hence the latest show.

“I’ve backlogged a lot of plays, and frankly, they’re all middle school plays, but surprisingly that works pretty well,” he said. “I wrote it about two, three years ago but never performed it.”

Morris has also put together plays for Grand Old West Days in recent years and arranged with Luttrell Barn organizers to use the space for the shows.

The cast of “It’s Greek to Me” works out details of their show during a March 15 rehearsal at Lutrell Barn Cultural Center. The community theater performance takes place Thursday, March 30, 2023.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“I’ve been to David’s plays before, and they were great and a lot of people came, so we’re hoping for more of that,” said Sue Lewis, a volunteer with the organization who will also be part of the cast.

Ideally, Morris and Lewis hope the upcoming show will be the first of many at the space, which has also hosted small concerts and open mic nights in its upstairs performance space.

“That’s exactly the direction we’re trying to go in here,” Morris said. “Craig needs theater.”

Morris’s story combines classic Greek characters ranging from Zeus and Hera to Prometheus and Pandora with another mythos, namely “Superman,” as well as supporting characters Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, who are investigating the exploits of ancient Greece.

The fantastic elements of the original myths are there with some of the playwright’s wacky humor.

Kamisha Siminoe and Randy Looper portray gods Hera and Zeus in “It’s Greek to Me” during a rehearsal at Lutrell Barn Cultural Center.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“Everybody has a little Greek mythology,” Morris said. “At some point or another in school, you’re going to hear one of those stories.”

The close-knit cast and crew consists of about a dozen people, some of whom had Morris as a teacher, such as couple CJ and Kristin Skowronski.

“I reached out to Dave when I heard he was doing this, and I’m so excited to be doing it,” Kristin said. “I love his direction. It’s all up to interpretation, and he’s written a lot of funny stuff.”

She added that she hopes to perform more of Morris’ content.

“He’s got, like, seven more in the bag, so this is going to be a big thing,” she said.

Morris said that while he was a little uncertain of gathering a troupe in a short amount of time, he was pleasantly surprised how quickly everyone joined the effort.

The cast of “It’s Greek to Me” wraps a March 15 rehearsal with a flourish at Lutrell Barn Cultural Center.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“Amazingly enough, they all jumped in, so getting a cast together was much easier than I thought,” he said. “They’ve been a great cast, and we’ve all been having a lot of fun doing this.”

Shows take place at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. March 30 at Luttrell Barn Cultural Center, 411 Emerson St. Admission is free with donations to Luttrell Barn welcome.

Scranton: Vision + perception = reality

One characteristic of perception is that it very much depends on our prior experience, thus: vision + perception = reality. Too often we recoil at the prospect of the unknown and lurch back to the comfort of our uninformed fears. Fear can be our excuse, our confidante, our protector or our motivator. But one thing is for sure, we are living in an age of fear.

Growing up we were taught about Galileo and his confident supposition that the Earth revolved around the sun and, for that, the “experts” of the day labeled him a heretical, anti-science radical. We know today that fear of losing power and status drove powerful people in the Italian astronomer’s day to label him a heretic. But he persisted and insisted that he was right, and it was eventually proven, and now is an obvious, immutable fact.

His vision and perception had been altered by his careful study of the scientific analysis of astronomy and eventually his reality changed. It was likely pretty scary when he determined that what everyone seemed to think without question — was not accurate.

Things haven’t really changed that much, and today we live pretty much the same way. Should you question anything but don’t have a Ph.D. in the particular area of concern, then you are labeled an ignorant, brainwashed, radical, racist, denier, etc. Galileo didn’t have as much access to information as we have today, and because the preponderance of hyper-specialization has gripped every aspect of our culture, we are told to shut up, listen to the experts and do what we’re told even though sometimes those same experts miss the forest because they are so focused on the trees!

But how does one not see the obvious errors that are compounding in our culture by the so-called experts who continue to tell us that we need to dread the things they tell us to fear. Global war is imminent if we don’t destroy Russia (while China gets a pass?), global catastrophe is just a few years away unless we take drastic action now (but I’ve been told this for 40 years and things actually seem better), line up for your COVID shots or you will die and if you really cared about others you would not put their safety at risk (until it was discovered that the shots might help with the severity of the virus but didn’t help with minimizing contraction or transmission). Election integrity is really just racism in disguise (but why are elections any different than asking for identification to purchase alcohol, apply for a passport or when you get pulled over?).

It isn’t hard to figure all this stuff out, and the information is easily available. But Big Pharma knows that there isn’t any profit in a healthy populace, the War Machine can’t forge ahead unless there is fear and elections that are close and have consequences should be as accurate as possible! We need to have trust in all of these institutions for our safety and protection but aren’t we allowed to ask questions and get some answers? Why is the narrative the most important thing, instead of just answering the question?

Our present reality is shaped by the experiences we have and thus: vision + perception = reality. Teaching people to blindly follow out of fear seems like a good strategy until you actually need people to think for themselves. Our world is a pretty complex place and sometimes we don’t always make the best, most accurate decisions, but demonizing people shouldn’t be the norm for those who simply want more information or hear a different perspective.

It’s all part and parcel of what we teach the future leaders and informed citizens to do: ask questions, trust but verify, look at both sides and discuss things. Why is it that many of those who used to tell us to question everything, and are now in power, (and expected to provide the answers) are so resistant to affording people the same things they expected when they were younger?

It’s a big question and one that seriously needs to be discussed. Our future depends on the answers!

Moffat County Humane Society can help get pets spayed, neutered

For residents who want to get their pets spayed or neutered but cannot afford to, the Humane Society of Moffat County might be able to help.

In addition to offering financial assistance to cover getting a pet spayed or neutered, the Humane Society can also provide help with medical care and pet food to families who find themselves in temporary, difficult circumstances. For more info, go to HumaneSocietyOfMoffatCounty.org or call 970-824-7235.

Novices can apply for a chance to learn how to hunt turkey with CPW mentors

True novice turkey hunters ages 18 and under who want to learn how to hunt wild turkey can apply for a chance to participate in a turkey hunt with Colorado Parks and Wildlife this spring.

According to CPW, prospective hunters must submit their application by April 1. The hunt will take place northwest of Craig on April 28-30. All youth are encouraged to apply. However, special consideration will be given to those who have never hunted before, don’t come from a hunting family or do not have the opportunity to learn from a mentor.

To apply, all applications must include the youth’s name, address and Hunter Education number. A parent or guardian’s contact information, including an email address and phone number.

Applications should also have a short narrative explaining specifically why they should be selected for this special hunting experience and why hunting is important for conservation. Craig Hunt applications can be emailed to Jeff Goncalves, Jeffrey.goncalves@state.co.us, or physically mailed to 795 Stout St., Craig, CO 81625.

Successful applicants will receive notification on or before April 5.

Successful applicants are required to attend a pre-hunt orientation accompanied by a parent, guardian, or mentor that must remain with the youth for the entire hunt. CPW will provide shotguns, ammunition, blinds and turkey calls. The hunt will be a “camp out” hunt and the majority of the camp gear provided by CPW including wall tents, cots and meals.

For more, contact Goncalves at 970-942-8443 or Jeffrey.goncalves@state.co.us.

Moffat County ranchers angry with Colorado voters for forcing wolves on the Western Slope

Resentment and contempt were consistent themes as ranchers from Moffat County expressed their dismay last week with plans to reintroduce wolves in Colorado later this year.

Seeking public input, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service organized one of three meetings on Wednesday, March 15, in Craig to offer more information and take public comments before Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduces wolves on the Western Slope by the end of 2023. Other meetings for public comments were held in Grand Junction and Walden.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting at the Moffat County Pavilion, wolves came up at Craig City Council, as council member Tom Kleinschnitz reminded his colleagues of the upcoming opportunity to comment.

“Speaking personally, I wish the wolf initiative had never passed,” Kleinschnitz told his colleagues. “It is going to cost the people of the state of Colorado a tremendous amount of money, I think more than anybody ever anticipated. Some of the ramifications are just ungodly. Unfortunately, it lends itself to that urban-rural divide that we seem to just be driving ourselves at.”

Backed largely by Front Range voters, Colorado narrowly passed Proposition 114 in 2020 mandating that the state reintroduce gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023. The scenario is unique because it’s the first time state voters have weighed in on the reintroduction of an endangered species.

“It’s a law. Wolves are going to be reintroduced here,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Lauren Toivonen told the crowd at the Moffat County Pavilion. “That wasn’t a decision made by CPW or Fish and Wildlife Service. That was a decision was made by voters.”

However, bringing back an apex predator has exploded fears across the ranching community whose land these wolves might roam. A small pack of wolves in Jackson County has killed a dozen cows, calves and dogs since 2021, highlighting local concerns that wolf depredations will soon become a common occurrence across all of Northwest Colorado.

“I think somebody ought to introduce a bill that the people who voted to introduce these wolves ought to be taxed to the point they pay for it,” said Ron Lawton, an 82-year-old lifelong Moffat County resident who raises hay and cows, and hunts. “The ones that want them ought to be the ones that pay for it.”

After the presentation, Lawton admitted that he has “a bad attitude” concerning wolf reintroduction. In his words, he doesn’t want to work through the night saving a calf just to have that calf go to feed wolves.

To offer more flexibility for managing wolves once they’re released on the Western Slope, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating the incoming wolves a nonessential, experimental population, as well as introducing a 10(J) rule. If included in the agency’s final decision, the rule would allow CPW more flexibility with its management plan for the federally endangered species.

That includes measures allowing for lethal take in a handful of specific circumstances, such as when a wolf is caught preying on livestock. For many local ranchers, the 10(j) rule is seen as an essential tool for dealing with an already bad situation, but that’s not their only concern.

On Wednesday, one local rancher spoke about how wolves might stress a herd of cattle, causing a reduced number of pregnancies and births among the heifers, and he questioned how that rancher’s losses would be defined and compensated.

“I can tell you right now, we will never be compensated for our losses,” he said. “It’s partial at best.”

And he wasn’t alone.

“My concern is adding on to the losses (we already have),” another rancher said. “They introduce wolves and we lose animals — we’re already being taxed for that, and then we have a loss, so we’re getting taxed doubly. We didn’t vote this in. How is that fair on our part? We get hit twice losing animals, and we didn’t want this.”

Fish and Wildlife officials told the rancher that’s a big reason why the agency is working to add a 10(j) rule in Colorado, so that landowners will have some means to defend their livestock.

“It’s not only livestock, it’s our way of life,” the rancher replied. “Our hunting, our livestock, our dogs, our horses, it goes down and down the list. We’re paying for it two or three times.”

One woman wondered how the ungulate populations in the area could support additional pressure with wolves preying on them, and others expressed concerns for hunting-related businesses that could also take hits, such as lodging, meat processing, taxidermy and more.

“Everything you’re talking about is damage control,” said Jim Nicoletto, a retired power plant worker who raises sheep and goats on a small scale to have control over his food.

For Nicoletto, it’s hard to understand why anyone would support a measure that makes ranchers’ already difficult job even harder.

“These people in this room feed the world,” he said. “We have all these people in these cities that don’t have any idea of where their food comes from. It comes from people like us, and they’re doing everything they can to make it harder on us.”

He commended the federal wildlife officials for doing the best they can with “this horrible deck of cards (they’ve) been dealt.”

With multiple reports of wolf sightings in the area, many locals say wolves are already in Northwest Colorado, and that sparked one of the most pointed exchanges of Wednesday’s meeting.

“I call (expletive) on your two known wolves in Colorado,” a rancher told the federal officials. “There’s no way you can base that on the facts. The extreme northwest corner of Colorado has wolves. We’ve got them up here in Craig crossing the line every day. You cannot sell that to us. That’s wrong. How can you reintroduce something that’s already here?”

Nicole Alt, Colorado Ecological Services Supervisor for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responded that the agency defines a wolf population as two breeding pairs raising at least two pups over two consecutive seasons. Based on what wildlife officials know about wolves in Colorado, those thresholds have not been met.

“I hear you. I don’t think we’re making our decision based on the fact that there are only two, but this is the best available information that we have right now,” Alt said.

“Typical fake news,” the rancher replied.

Framing the situation for the room, Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock said it can be tough to separate the different pieces of the state and federal plans, but the state will be the entity that has to address compensation for losses, while his focus on the federal documents centers on the 10(j) rule.

“Nobody in this room voted to put wolves on the ground,” Comstock said. “The county doesn’t support it either. What we have to do is impress upon the (state) wildlife commission before that plan becomes final those kinds of things that we need in there, the compensation.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service … this is one of the few times that we find ourselves in agreement with what the feds are doing. They actually want to be able to kill wolves. That’s what 10(j) does. Without that 10(j) rule in place, we’re subject to a fully protected species under the Endangered Species Act, so this is a good thing.”

According to the Fish and Wildlife officials, comments that speak to specific management aspects of the proposal are viewed as the most useful.

As a result, some suggestions for comments include providing information pertaining to the conservation of gray wolves, the adequacy of the proposed regulations for the experimental population, any management flexibilities that could be added to the final rule and whether to allow legal management of gray wolves that are affecting ungulate populations.

Currently, managing wolves for their impact on ungulate populations is not included in the federal plan. For Comstock, that is another important aspect on which locals might want to focus.

The comment period ends April 18. For more, go to FWS.GOV/office/colorado-ecological-services-field-office/colorado-gray-wolf-updates. A virtual meeting is also scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22. Register online at bit.ly/COgraywolf.

Wildlife officials work to help elk, deer survive tough Northwest Colorado winter

With snow piled high throughout Craig and Moffat County, wildlife has struggled this winter to break through 30 inches or more of hard-packed snow to get to food.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, news that another round of snow and cold was coming to Northwest Colorado was the last thing local wildlife officials wanted to hear, especially given the area’s large elk herds. 

With heavy snow and extreme cold since October, food has became more scarce throughout the winter months. Additionally, many local ranchers and landowners have been noticing an increase in the number of elk getting into feed lines set out for cattle, horses and other livestock.

In addition to creating extra costs for the ranchers, the scenario also presents an issue for the safety of the livestock because elk can be aggressive and stomp livestock and their newborns to get to hay.

In January, CPW staff in the Craig area knew something needed to be done. As game damage claims continued to increase, CPW staff began working on a plan to address the ongoing concerns and reduce increasing conflicts. On Feb. 2, wildlife officers began a baiting operation to reduce conflict with livestock and game damage from elk. 

Now, it has become a full-time job for district wildlife managers, who have sat down with ranchers and landowners to try to identify what the issues are and find solutions.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff spread hay off a snowcat to bait elk away from livestock west of Craig.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy photo

For some, the solution is to have CPW replenish the hay lost to elk. For others, it’s using hay provided by CPW to bait the elk away from their feed lines. In most cases, CPW provides the hay, but the landowners are doing the work of creating and managing the bait lines.

According to the state agency, CPW has also helped some landowners bait wildlife on their own by plowing snow, making it easier to get to areas farther back on their land to prevent elk from walking back and forth between the bait line and their feed lines. CPW staff has been responsible for managing the bait line for a few landowners too.

According to CPW, on one cold morning in late February, staff gathered at the agency’s shop in Craig to load hay and equipment. After a quick meeting to go over that day’s plans, the team set off for the first of several deliveries.

The team arrived at its first location along the Yampa River drainage near Maybell, and the temperature was minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, they prepared a snowcat and snowmobiles for baiting operations to help a half-dozen landowners in the area, baiting away around 200-250 elk. 

Using the snowcat, District Wildlife Managers Seth Schwolert and Evan Jones made their way to the larger bait area where hay would be placed, enticing the elk to the area.

Just over the hill, Assistant Area Wildlife Managers John Lambert and Mike Swaro used small bales of hay to create a line leading elk at a nearby ranch to the larger bait site where Schwolert and Jones were working. When the lines were set, the teams went back to the vehicles to load equipment, then to the shop to pick up the next load and head out once again. 

This back-and-forth routine has become second nature for local staff, according to CPW. The days run from early in the morning until after the sun has set seven days a week as district wildlife managers try to help the local community, even during another round of snow.

Since the baiting operation began in January, area wildlife staff have reportedly distributed more than 1,000 tons of hay to around 100 landowners and ranchers in Craig, Maybell, Rangely and surrounding areas.

In addition to hay, CPW has worked with people in the community to provide panels to protect hay stacks. For CPW, the goal is to reduce conflicts with livestock by providing just enough to lead elk and deer away and encourage them to move on. The goal is not to provide enough food to survive the winter.

Deer cluster in a group near a bait site west of Craig.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy photo

Additionally, CPW credits the support of ranchers, landowners and community members, as well as financial support from the Habitat Partnership Program State Council, for their help. As of March 15, the council has provided more than $350,000 for hay, deer pellets, paneling and snow removal. Funding for the Habitat Partnership Program comes from the sale of big game licenses in Colorado. 

While local staff have seen improvements in conditions for some locations, CPW staff is stressing that there is still a long way to go. According to CPW, the next 30 to 90 days will be crucial for wildlife’s survival. However, CPW is also reminding people that while agency officials hope CPW’s efforts will help all animals in Northwest Colorado, there are more than 50,000 year-round elk and deer spread out across 10,200 square miles, so it’s simply not possible.

Letter: The truth about wolves is they are wild animals

As we have learned well in the past few years, “conspiracy theories” used to take a year or two to become fact. Lately, the time frame has been about a few weeks to a few months, but now the time frame is getting shorter, and the score for the conspiracy theorists is close to blowout level against the fact checkers over at FB and the MSM.

The Craig Press may have exposed one of the quickest turnarounds — two days — from a Wednesday spin to a Friday fact of life, all in the same week. The Writers on the Range opinion commentary on Wednesday, “Let’s tell the truth about the big, bad wolves,” suggested any occurrence of a problem for a rancher is rare, and all they have to do is spend some more time and money properly looking after their stock.

That is time and money the auction barn is not going to take into account come the sale of the stock, but hey, that is not the problem of those who pushed for this and voted for something that would affect someone else. It will not bother any city dweller that extra labor, time and money spent by the rancher, creating a smaller return on their investment, happens at all.

The time for them will be only if the wolves start poaching little fido off the back porch — kind of like some cougars, coyotes and foxes are doing now.

Move to Friday’s paper, forced to follow all the rules, a rancher in North Park is down one dog and another one from nearby had to be put down. As the conspiracy theorists predicted, these darn wolves just don’t follow the rules. This is simply the beginning. At some point in time, the bunny huggers are going to have to understand, a wild animal does not give a damn about what they want them to do. 

But they are still trying to keep the spin alive about the sage grouse problem, so I find it unlikely that it will ever dawn on them that wishing and wanting and actual results don’t necessarily work out.

John Williams


Letter: Columnist who wrote about wolves doesn’t have a clue about ranching

I read Story Warren’s opinion on wolves and wondered if she has any idea what she is talking about. She says ranchers can ride the range to scare off wolves.

Who has that kind of time? Should they hire a guard? She also recommends penning the livestock at night or using guard dogs. Penning livestock at night? Maybe if you have a dairy herd in Wisconsin. Guard dogs? How many dogs have wolves killed in Jackson County? Greg Sykes just had his dog killed by wolves 30 yards from the house.

She also says that in Washington state there are 33 wolf packs and 80% have no conflict with livestock. Which means that six or seven packs are killing livestock.

Story Warren is a “program manager in wildlife protection for the Humane Society.” She obviously loves wolves, but I don’t think she has a clue about ranching.

Richard Johnston

Steamboat Springs

Moffat County robotics team programmed for success at regional meet

Each year contains different goals, a shakeup of team members and a plethora of knowledge learned from previous events, and the Moffat County robotics program will be taking all that into competition this week.

MoCo Robo is headed to the Colorado Regional on Wednesday, March 22, in Denver as part of FIRST Robotics Competition.

The event is a worldwide program that is part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which is designed to enhance STEM learning for students in preschool through 12th grade through building, programming and maintaining robots.

Moffat County senior Gage Jones and coach Jeremy Boatman adjust their machinery’s arm as part of a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20, 2023.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

Team coaches Kristen Nichols and Jeremy Boatman have been working with a group of 11 high school students leading up to the regional event.

“For our final push — it’s really about burning the midnight oil,” Nichols said.

Builders are tasked with assembling a robot that can go to work on a huge gameboard and perform specific tasks for points. This year’s assignment will have the robots lift and move plastic cubes and cones, which is why, with a large arm atop its chassis, MoCo Robo’s entry is considerably bigger than last year’s robot.

Miscellaneous spare parts are ready for use during a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20, 2023.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“We’re taking what we learned last year and really building on that,” Nichols said. “The biggest thing is just the cost and the mechanics. It’s a much more expensive and sophisticated robot. It’s got a chain drive. It’s got pneumatics. It’s got a pivot and turn.”

In addition to the machinery, the team is also rebuilding its roster after most of its members graduated last spring.

“We only have two or three kids who didn’t graduate last year, and now it’s mostly freshmen,” Nichols said. “It’s a pretty steep learning curve for them because it’s a big step from middle school.”

Even so, team members new and old have all been integral to the effort.

Moffat County freshman Makylee Ott works on wiring as part of a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20, 2023.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

Freshman Makylee Ott was hard at work Monday night, March 20, in the robotics shop upgrading the robot’s tangle of wires.

“I’ve mostly been putting new male and female ports on the wires,” she said. “It’s difficult because there’s a lot of trial and error to learning how to do it.”

Sophomore Ray Merrick noted that while the wiring is more visible in this model, it’s about the same amount of wires as the one from last year.

“A lot of those last year were underneath and more compact,” he said. “We’ve had to find ways to add more motors, so there might be more wires from that.”

The energy within the shop these days feels much the same as last season, Merrick added.

“It’s a brand new robot, but we still have the old one. The panic’s all the same toward the end,” he said. “It’s fun to see it all come together, and it’s interesting to see what we have to make do with. We learned to use less plastic parts than last year, which we were forced to for necessity and ease.”

Last season provided some harrowing lessons, including during the team’s final match when a collision nearly ruined the robot.

Moffat County sophomore Ray Merrick, freshman Makylee Ott, and senior Gage Jones disassemble part of their machinery during a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20, 2023.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“It actually ripped our motor in half, and fortunately we had a second one and were able to use duct tape to keep it functioning,” Merrick said.

Merrick said he works on both the mechanical aspect and on programming, though senior teammate Noe Del Toro has been doing much of the computer work.

“I’ve been doing code and doing online courses the last few years,” he said. “I’d definitely probably be lost in some parts of building the robot, but this is what I do. I write the codes for the functions of the robot like the arm. Sometimes it’s difficult to get it all done, but it’s going more smoothly.”

Boatman said the versatility of team members has been a big strength.

Moffat County senior Noe Del Toro and coach Jeremy Boatman go over robotic coding as part of a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

“All of these guys have touched pretty much every aspect of what we’ve built,” he said. “With all the activities and different things going on in these guys’ lives, we never have the same kids on any given night.”

Boatman noted that MoCo Robo was able to plan things out better this season for how to make the best machinery and also work with other teams in the contest.

“Last year we went into the Denver competition not really knowing that much, but this year we were able to analyze the game,” he said. “So now we know we have this type of drivetrain, and everybody else will be using a fancier one we can’t afford. How can we make ourselves more desirable to be in an alliance with. What do we bring to the table?”

From left, Moffat County senior Gage Jones, coach Kristen Nichols, senior Forrest Siminoe, and coach Jeremy Boatman discuss wiring as part of a MoCo Robo session Monday, March 20.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

The Craig crew is seeking to return to the world level event of the FIRST program, which takes place in April. The atmosphere at the regional event will help them get into the right mindset, Boatman said.

“STEM-minded kids need their own sporting event. It’s big, there’s music, there’s crowds and people cheering,” he said. “These guys are really working toward something big for them.”