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Children help remove tumbleweeds from monument grounds

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AZTEC — Park Avenue Elementary School fourth-grade students celebrated International Archaeology Day on Thursday at Aztec Ruins National Monument.

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After walking over to the national monument, students had the opportunity to learn about the construction of the ancestral Puebloan dwellings and make bricks. Following the brick making, students walked over to an area near the east ruins, where they helped rangers pick up tumbleweeds.

Park Ranger Steve Matt said by noon, the students had collected 929 tumbleweeds, and he predicted more than 1,500 tumbleweeds would be collected during the day.

Matt and Ranger Sarah Gaffney, an intern biologist at the monument, greeted two classes that comprised a group of 31 students and spoke to them about the importance of removing tumbleweeds from the area.

"Why get rid of tumbleweeds?" Matt asked the students.

About 10 of the children eagerly raised their hands.

"If there was a wildfire, those things could catch on fire, and if there was a wildfire, it could ruin the ruins," 9-year-old Christianna Martinez answered.

Matt and Gaffney explained that the tumbleweed, or Russian thistle, is not native to the United States and can cause the archaeology sites to deteriorate by out competing native flora.

Gaffney told the children that each tumbleweed can distribute more than 200,000 seeds as it blows across the landscape.

"Every tumbleweed that we pull up will further prevent all those seeds from further invading all of our nice spaces," Gaffney said.

Rachel Warren, one of the teachers, said that while it isn't uncommon for the school to take students to tour the ruins, they don't usually get an opportunity to clean up the grounds.

The children seemed to enjoy the opportunity, as well.

"I found the jackpot!" one of them shouted while leading classmates to a big patch of tumbleweeds.

Emmye Parry, 10, was one of the students who came back from the "jackpot" with several large tumbleweeds.

"I like that I'm helping it," she said.

After they finished pulling the tumbleweeds, the children learned about the Great Kiva and received an Every Kid In A Park pass. The pass is available to all fourth-graders in the United States and allows them to get in free to all national parks.

Nathan Hatfield, the chief of interpretation at the ruins, said the program was introduced this year to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service.

"The goal is to reintroduce the parks to Americans," Hatfield said.

Isaiah Montaño, 9, said he will use the park pass to visit other parks, as well as Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Isaiah has visited Aztec Ruins National Monument about 10 times and enjoys going there.

"I like the Great Kiva, and I like the video," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

Every Kid In A Park passes

Who is eligible: Every fourth-grade child in the United States, including home-schooled and free-choice learners who are 10 years old.

How to get a pass: Go to www.everykidinapark.gov,play an online game and download and print the personalized voucher. Take the voucher to a national park to get a pass.

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