Work in restoring and beautifying Colorado’s riverfront never ends
Plant the seed.
When people first settled Colorado, the only place to survive our harsh winters was along the river. Every town and city in this state is located along a river. Denver was founded on the banks of the South Platte, Montrose was on the Uncompahgre, Delta on the Gunnison, our own sweet little town at the junction of the Colorado and the Gunnison.
Railroad lines were built along these river corridors. It was the path of least resistance.
In many cases, we planted seeds and hoped for at least an abbreviated growing season. Mostly, however, we planted seed on higher ground, and abused our river bottoms. We filled them with trash, hoping next year’s flood might wash it all away.
Eventually, we began to see the error of our ways. After all, we can’t live without clean water.
About 30 years ago, thousands of local citizens began to clean up valuable riparian areas along the Colorado River in the Grand Valley. This river zone does not look like it used to the first time I was chased off Watson Island by a couple of junkyard dogs.
Watson Island is the cornerstone of the Colorado Riverfront Trail. It’s located at the end of Seventh Street, just behind the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
Back then, the island was trashed. Junk cars. Dead batteries. Feral pigs. No lie. Old refrigerators. Busted-up cement. Broken bottles, beer cans, aluminum lawn chairs, wire, Styrofoam, junkyard dogs, 55-gallon drums of toxic ooze leaking into our river.
Some of the riparian zone along our river banks looked a little better. Some of it was worse. Some of it was a very valuable, viable and necessary salvage operation. Some of it was just littered with junk, toxic waste and invasive non-native weeds and plants.
In the past 30 years, however, Watson Island has changed — much for the better. The junk has been cleared and there are still a few non-native plants and weeds on the island, but the Tamarisk Coalition is working on that. In fact, in the past year or two, they’ve spent about a quarter-million dollars and hundreds of man-hours clearing out non-native species — mostly water-sucking Tamarisk — and re-introducing native vegetation to this river bottom land.
The Colorado Riverfront Project has been a wondrous thing for our river and our valley, but we must constantly remind ourselves that the work is not done. There’s always on-going maintenance.
After thousands of people spent tens of thousands of hours cleaning our Colorado Riverfront property after 100 years of trashing it, the crown jewel of the Riverfront System, the Botanical Gardens, continues to require our tender loving care.
The Gardens receives no financial support from any taxing entity. It’s supported entirely by memberships, grants and the generous support of the public. It’s also operated and staffed with wonderful, big-hearted volunteers.
“It’s an awareness thing,” said local businessman Brad Brehmer, owner and operator of The Blue Moon on Seventh Street. “Plant the seed. Everyone in this valley should know about the Botanical Gardens. If they know it’s here, they’ll support it. Plant the seed.”
Just because people like Brian Mahoney and the Lions Club and the city and the scouts and the senior citizens groups cleaned up the mess back in the mid to late 1980s, doesn’t mean the work is done restoring and beautifying our riverfront. We have a few more seeds to plant.
Remember, the river that continues to provide water for one-sixth of the population of the United States still flows through this happy valley. The river that formed the Grand Canyon still flows through here.
The river that provides water for our thriving orchard industry and our growing valley still flows through here.
Last Sunday, the day after celebrating the Colorado National Monument’s 100th birthday, the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens opened its newest addition, the Western Heritage Garden.
It depicts life here in the valley for the past century or so. It showcases the cattle and sheep industries. It shows the history of natural gas here in the valley. It depicts the life of the orchardist at the turn of the last century, and discusses the development of the wine industry in more recent times.
And it does it with plants.
Someone planted the seed.
In this case, it was three wonderful women, Elizabeth Harris, Shirley Gore and Norma Gobo, all matriarchs of longstanding and honorable families in the valley, all rich in their own families’ histories.
They planted the seed.
Now, I’m planting one. Support your Gardens. Volunteer, get a membership, visit the new Western Heritage Garden. Visit often. Donate money.
Time, talent, treasure. That’s all it takes.
That, and planting the seed.
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