Community to rescue after vandals storm castle

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Kaleb Holm, 5, of Grand Junction slides down the dragon as his cousin Joshua Shaffer, 2, of Denver gets ready to follow him in the garden of the Children’s Castle at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens on Sunday. The botanical gardens celebrated the grand reopening of the castle, which was damaged by vandals earlier this year, with a free party for hundreds of visitors.

You could call it a fairy tale ending, how the community banded together to remodel the children’s castle at Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, 655 Struthers Ave.

Incensed after vandals destroyed the castle’s interior in mid-June, community members have been knights in shining armor, giving time and donations to restore the castle’s luster.

“It shows you the nature of this valley,” executive director Dana Hobika said. “It’s so wrong to pick on a kids’ place. People were just not going to take it. I think they found it intolerable. (Volunteers) came after work to work here.”

The botanical gardens thanked the community as about 900 people toured the grounds Sunday during the monthly free admission day. Adults and children enjoyed face-painting, free fruit smoothies and admission to the butterfly garden. The kids’ castle is always open for children and can be reserved for parties.

Having to turn families away from the castle while it was being remodeled was rough on the gardens’ finances, Hobika said. However, the extensive vandalism has been a “blessing in disguise,” she said. People were so irked by the act that they responded enthusiastically, donating in-kind services and time to restore the local jewel.

A mother of four young children, Shayla Ebertowski, said her family visits the gardens about once every two months on the first Sunday of each month, which is free-admission day.

“Unless you want to spend a bunch of money, there’s not a lot to do (in Grand Junction) for little kids,” Ebertowski said. “This place doesn’t charge too much.”

One of the gardens’ two vandals, Benjamin Levanduski, 20, of New Jersey, received a four-year deferred judgement for his role.  He will avoid a felony convictions if he stays out of trouble over that period. He will have to complete 75 hours of public service and pay full restitution.

The case of co-defendant Bradley Dodd, 29, is still in the court system.

The men, both transients, were arrested by police soon after the incident June 14 while they were walking from the gardens, having stolen some of gardens’ property.

The vandals destroyed nearly everything inside the castle, cracking a window, tossing around furniture and smearing art supplies on the walls.

“We’ve seen a lot of people in the community reaching out to us so much,” said Laura Stafford, the gardens’ events and promotion director. “This is a way to give it a happy ending.”


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