Developing my Outdoor Spirit through ELK

Environmental Learning for Kids
5 min readApr 30, 2024



One of the most thrilling outdoor adventures I’ve embarked on with ELK is the annual ice fishing trip to Staunton State Park. While I’ve enjoyed fishing in the spring and summer, this trip was truly exceptional. Held in early February, the coldest winter month in Colorado, when the Davis Pond is frozen more than a foot deep, it was a true test of my adventurous spirit. I attended this event with my mother and friends from ELK.

The trip began at 9 am on a Saturday at the ELK Education Center with a healthy breakfast and then a ride in the ELK van to Staunton State Park. I learned that people 16 years or older needed a fishing license, which ELK sponsored for me at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) headquarters the week before the trip to save time on our journey in line. I was told I could get a fishing license at the Staunton State Park Visitor Center or some retailers specified on the CPW website that is valid from April to April of the following year when the next fishing season begins. I liked the idea of getting a fishing license in Denver to avoid waiting in line day of.

Upon reaching the pond, I was filled with a mix of excitement and a hint of fear of slipping on the ice. To my surprise, the ice was not slippery, and I could walk to the pond’s center without any trouble, even with thirty more people in the same spot. It was a fascinating experience to stomp on the pond’s surface, and have the ice remained intact. The CPW staff assured us that the ice was more than a foot thick, ensuring our safety. Under the guidance of Andre, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Educator, I learned the rules, strategies, and proper equipment for successful ice fishing.

Tips from CPW Staff

I was taught the art of catching fish and drilling a hole in the ice with a manual tool, which admittedly took a while. However, the staff quickly brought an electric gauge to drill holes around the pond, making the process much faster. We used a special ice fishing rod, smaller than the regular ones and without a reel. The fishing line could be adjusted to the depth of the hole. Once we had the bait hooked, we were ready to have a great time.

At this time, I chose the fishing hole used for the demonstration. Fish were already at this spot, waiting to catch food. The difference between this experience and the summer fishing experience was the waiting time. Here, in winter, the fish come fast and get hooked in a minute. This moment was so exciting. When I did not catch anything within a few minutes, I switched between holes to find areas where fish were swimming. Fish moved under the ice, and I needed to be clever to get them!

I used a variety of bait, including mealworms and power bait. I preferred mealworms since they were alive and more attractive to fish. I could keep five fish I caught for a good dinner option. CPW limited the fish to five to keep the fish population at the pond. However, I could catch and release the whole day!

Staunton State Park allocates fish species that include rainbow and brook trout. Trout are in the same family as salmon, so they taste good. However, I needed to kill and gut the fish before leaving the pond and clean the area so the intestines wouldn’t attract predators. I certainly did not enjoy hitting the fish in their heads with an ice scoop to kill and prepare them for gutting, nor seeing the fish hooked by the throat, resulting in bleeding. I protect wildlife, and injuring an animal does not make me happy. Even with all of the likes and dislikes of this ice fishing trip, it is an unforgettable experience because I love being outside in nature, and this only takes place once a year. During this trip, I tried to have a mindset that this is sustainable fishing, and even though I caught and did not release fish, the population would rebound.

Pure Joy

This adventure was a rewarding experience filled with moments of accomplishment and success. The thrill of catching fish, one after another, every minute, was an adrenaline rush like no other. It was a perfect blend of productivity, motivation, self-expression, and fun, all while learning, socializing, and bonding with my loved ones and the supportive ELK and CPW staff.

I hope you enjoyed my reflection on ice fishing and hope you too, get the chance to experience this in our great Colorado State Parks.


Aysha Deolarte

ELK Participant 2017-present

About Environmental Learning for Kids: Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is a local nonprofit that creates a sense of belonging, self-discovery, and adventure in the outdoors for underrepresented young people of color and their families, transforming youth into environmental stewards and trailblazers that promote equitable outdoor access, sustainable practices, and community uplift. Learn more at

About the Author: Aysha’s formative years in Green Valley Ranch, Denver, were marked by an early exposure to environmental issues. This early exposure laid the foundation for her future studies and involvement in environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines. Her commitment to sustainability and environmental protection is not just a hobby but also a lifelong dedication. As an active member of Generation Wild Northeast Metro Coalition’s Youth Council, she has dedicated herself to learning, advocating, and participating in public events while contributing to the weekly activities of natural areas around Denver. Her 7-year involvement with Environmental Learning for Kids has further solidified this commitment, as she regularly visits and engages in service projects in State and National Parks in Colorado. She has learned to enjoy the outdoors sustainably, leaving no trace and always striving to leave each place better than she found it. She is also a member of the Next Gen Cabinet, a multicultural youth council led by Denver City Councilperson Stacie Gilmore. As a member, she collaborates with others to advocate for community change initiatives, including environmental issues, low-income housing, emergency rental assistance, and community funding that impacts crime, homelessness, and employment.



Environmental Learning for Kids

Environmental Learning for Kids cultivates a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners.