Marmot sock puppets. A marmot scavenger hunt. In fact, if you can put the word “marmot” in front of it, you’ll probably find it at Staunton State Park’s ninth annual Marmot Fest.
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The June 25 event featured live music and a variety of hands-on games and activities intended to teach kids about the park’s oddest furry critter.
As Tavian Lawrence, 8, scaled an enormous rock using Staunton’s climbing equipment, Mackenzie Wallace, 5, got her face painted, complete with marmot whiskers and little ears.
Adults were able to enjoy the fun, too. Sitting on tree stumps, the three-piece band Savoyard played a variety of unusual instruments, following the tradition of 18th-century French street musicians.
This may seem a bit out of touch with the event’s marmot theme, but before street musicians used a trained monkey in their acts, they used a marmot, according to the band. Savoyard had its own marmot, a stuffed animal that danced to the music with the help of a string tied around his belly.
“We’re teaching kids about marmots so they can appreciate them in nature when they might come across them,” Staunton volunteer Colleen Kindler said.
The event sparked more than a love for marmots among those attending, though. For many, it doubled as a celebration of the outdoors. A little way up the park’s Staunton Ranch trail, an elaborate system of climbing ropes and harnesses allowed adults and kids to scale the rocks with all the ease of, well, a marmot.
“My favorite part is seeing the kids succeed and say, ‘I love this. I’m hooked on climbing,’” Staunton volunteer and climbing instructor Alex Andrews said.
For volunteers like Andrews, sharing a love of the outdoors with the next generation was one of the most rewarding parts of the event. Linda and Tom Jagger drove up from Denver to volunteer at the festival, manning the “woodchuck” station.
While woodchuck is another name for a marmot, in this field kids and adults took the activity’s name literally, taking turns throwing logs as far as they could. Cohen Thran, 8, was one of these wood-chuckers.
He attends the event every year with his sister, Kai. Cohen was dressed for the occasion in a yellow-bellied marmot costume and matching face paint. The siblings came with their grandmother, Annie, who is the state park’s interpreter and in charge of the park’s educational opportunities.
“Marmots are common [at Staunton], and that’s unusual,” Annie said.
In fact, the oddity of the marmot at Staunton is how the festival came to be. Typically, marmots live in places thousands of feet higher in elevation, but they are drawn to Staunton’s rocky geography, Linda said.
As a result, they are the subject of 15 years of observation by the Staunton volunteers, according to Annie.
Marmot Fest is both a tribute to this research and a chance to get kids involved.
“You should come,” Kai, 12, said. “You can learn a lot about marmots!”
“Male marmots are eight and a half pounds,” Cohen, 11, chimed in.
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