Volunteers do goats’ work to stop weeds
Natural control is working (but expensive) at Bear Creek Park

       The goats didn't make it back this summer, but that doesn't mean the Bear Creek Garden Association didn't go after the weeds in “their” 20-acre part of Bear Creek Park.
       An estimated 300 hours of volunteer efforts went into pulling out unwanted vegetation, particularly the Canadian thistles and common teasel - both state-identified noxious weeds.
       “We're controlling the weeds with volunteers grubbing them out with hoes,” said Garden Association spokesperson Char Nymann.
       The result, according to a recent report by Mark Johnston, who heads the County Parks Environ-mental Services Depart-ment, was that weed removal in the volunteers' area was as effective as County Parks' efforts in a nearby 20-acre patch using herbicidal sprays.
       “They're getting the same amount we are,” he said.
       The diverse weed-control program started in 2004 after the Garden Association objected to County Parks' use of chemical sprays near the 2½-acre organic garden at Bear Creek Park (behind park headquarters southeast of 21st and Rio Grande streets) that volunteers have tended since 1986.
       Although the county has defended its sprays as “environmentally friendly,” the two entities worked out an agreement in which the association is allowed to use organic methods to control weeds in a 20-acre patch bordering the garden, while County Parks uses its traditional methods in a like-sized area of the park farther away and separated by a buffer zone. Part of the intent was to get a direct comparison of the two types of weed mitigation.
       The agreement gives the association the same amount of money per acre that the county spends. Mowing is part of that.
       The county commissioners have to renew the annual contract in December, but Johnston does not expect a problem. “As long as the Garden Association's weed control continues and everybody stays happy, the agreement could go on indefinitely,” he said.
       County Commissioner Sallie Clark, whose District 3 includes Bear Creek Park, said she's happy with the situation. “We have seen a healthy difference in the control areas of noxious weeds decrease and healthy
       vegetation increase in the control areas,” she said.
       The problem for the association is that bringing in goats to munch up the weeds is about five times more expensive than using sprays. The association used goats effectively twice last year, but could not raise enough money this year to bring them back, Nymann said.
       “Hopefully we'll get the goats next year,” she said. “Our volunteers have worked very hard. We're blessed that the county is letting us do this.”
       Johnston said he is looking into possible grants that could help defray the association's costs.
       The weed problem itself is not going away, he added. He described the Canadian thistle as a “deep-rooted perennial. There's no way we'll ever get rid of it. It's here forever.”
       The state requires public entities to control such identified weeds because of their adverse effect on indigenous grasses, shrubs and trees as well as animal habitat.
       In related news... the Board of County Commissioners recently approved the renewal of a contract allowing the Garden Association to continue managing its garden in Bear Creek Park for five more years.
       The fenced garden contains 104 plots that the association leases each summer to area citizens on a first-come, first-served basis.
       Excess produce is donated to local organizations, such as the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

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