Weeds chomped, sprayed as County Parks contest begins
At least 2 years anticipated for evaluation

       Weeds are already feeling the pain.
       A June 21 formal agreement between El Paso County Parks and the Bear Creek Garden Association set in motion a contest to decide whether natural or chemical methods are better for controlling park weeds.
       This month, both entities have employed their chief anti-weed weapons - herbicide sprays by the county and hungry goats by the association - in their respectively designated areas.
       The agreement “lays out the details of the side-by-side comparison of mowing and spraying versus mowing and grazing,” said Pat Farrell, maintenance supervisor for El Paso County Parks.
       Under the plan, both the association and the county are assigned zones identical in size (19.6222 acres), separated by a 100-foot-wide buffer area. The area being used for the test is undeveloped Bear Creek Regional Park land southeast of County Parks headquarters at 21st and Rio Grande streets. The Association's zone is next to its the 2 ½-acre organic garden (near the headquarters) that it has tended at the park since 1986.
       The agreement is for one year, but its language leaves open the possibility of up to three one-year renewals. Farrell said he would like to see the results of at least two summer seasons with the vying control methods. He said he is looking to have an evaluation in fall 2006.
       Charmaine Nymann, president of the Garden Association, said she is not opposed to that timetable, although suggesting it might not be long enough to demonstrate the full benefits of the goats. “We should look at the health of the land,” she said. “Goats take several years to show what they can do. Where goats are used, the land is very healthy. They fertilize too, and also till the soil and loosen it with their little hooves.”
       Farrell defends the herbicides as environmentally friendly.
       County Parks statistics indicate that spraying is two to five times less expensive than using goats - both methods are employed just a few times a year - but money will only be part of the evaluation criteria. “Cost per acre versus control per acre is how we'll eventually evaluate this,” Farrell said.
       The evaluation will include population counts of weeds in the control areas. The counts will be done by County Parks' Environmental Services Department.
       “Next year as things green up we can determine what level of control the different methods have obtained,” Farrell said. “Both sides are aiming for 60 percent.”
       The spraying is performed by a contracted service (Colorado Vegetation Management). A goat contractor - Golden Hooves Grazing Service of Maybell Colo. - was hired after a study of bids this spring by a committee consisting of Farrell, two County Parks Board members and two Garden Association members.
       Laura Lou Colby, Grazing Service owner, was here with her goat herd for about a week this month, earning praise from Farrell for her “systematic” efforts.
       Nymann said she is not sure when the herd will be back. “It depends on the condition of the plants,” she said.
       The Garden Association needs to be judicious in its use of the herds. The agreement calls for county reimbursement of the goat cost, but only equal to the amount the county spends on spraying ($2,835 this year). To help raise money for its share of the anticipated extra cost, the Garden Association is selling a book featuring a former El Paso County Park weed-eating goat. The book is titled “Sarge,” and was written by Jake Janssen of Nebraska. For more information, call the Association at 473-5827.
       The chief targets of the contending control measures are the common teasel and the Canada thistle. The state requires public entities to control such identified weeds because of their adverse effect on indigenous grasses, shrubs and trees and animal habitat.

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