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Students participate in the 2012 BioBlitz at Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photograph by Karine Aigner)

Rocky Mountain Blitz

By Alison Brick

When it comes to places that give you a feeling of discovery, America’s national parks top the list.

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Volunteers catalogue plants at Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photograph by Karine Aigner)

But Rocky Mountain National Park took that vibe to the max last month when it hosted a BioBlitz within its borders.

For 24 hours, scientists and members of the community worked together to identify as many living creatures as possible, keeping a running tally of the different species they observed throughout the day.

In addition to capturing a snapshot of the park’s biodiversity in a changing world, events like these teach families and student groups about science — and get them interested in preserving that biodiversity for future generations.

What did the citizen-scientist teams find after spending a full day catching insects, spotting birds, and investigating plants?

In total, 489 species were recorded — though a bald eagle that flew overhead during the closing ceremonies brought the unofficial count up to 490.

Reports of big brown bats were affirmed. One lizard, nine insects, and 13 nonvascular plants were also added to the park’s species list — though it will still take some time to confirm the findings.

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Students pore over their findings at Beaver Meadows. (Photograph by Kevin FitzPatrick)

All in all, more than 5,000 people participated in the blitz — about two-thirds of them kids, including hundreds of local students.

Cindy Cryder, a science teacher at St. Francis de Sales in Denver, brought a group of 11-13 year-olds to the BioBlitz. The students spent the day in Middle Beaver Meadows, identifying invertebrates they pulled from the stream.

“The BioBlitz is so important to kids, especially kids from the inner city,” Cryder said. “They need that experience of seeing where life begins, where a stream begins. They don’t get that perspective from books. It’s better to take them and let them see for themselves.”

Their part in the BioBlitz might’ve ended that day, but Ms. Cryder hopes to continue the fieldwork by taking the students to a local river, South Platte River, to compare invertebrates there with the ones they identified in the park.

The BioBlitz has been conducted in a different park since 2007 and will continue to be held annually until 2016, when the National Park Service will celebrate its centennial. Next year’s event will take place at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The National Geographic Society has partnered with the National Park Service to sponsor the annual BioBlitz events from the beginning, a natural continuation of a relationship that also dates back a century.

Alison Brick is a freelance writer and travel blogger. Follow her story on Twitter @alisonbrick.

[Related: If you’re planning a visit to the Rockies, check out our award-winning app, National Parks by National Geographic!]