Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Growing of the Garden

One of the CSU Environmental Learning Center’s many claims to fame, in addition to having a wildly fun and creative staff as well as having the highest density of mosquitoes west of the Mississippi, is of course the infamous Organic Garden and the mighty produce it yields. For years, staff members of the ELC have upheld the tradition of backyard agriculture and passed down the legacy of the garden summer after summer. Today, the garden stands as an important symbol of the Environmental Learning Center's eternal commitment to sustainability, education, and community involvement. Not only does the garden serve as a great educational tool for young students or as a service learning opportunity for volunteers, but also as a way for the ELC to give back to the community that has shown so much support over the years.

This year, in an effort to immortalize the Organic Garden as a summertime symbol of the ELC, and to produce an even greater harvest than the last, we've made some long overdue improvements to the garden and documented the season from day one.
Planting begins in late Spring in our very own greenhouse, where plants are sprouted and started in a controlled environment for several weeks until they are ready to be transplanted to garden beds. Compost from the previous year is added to the soil to increase fertility and ultimately lead to a greater harvest. This year’s variety of veggies includes the usual squash, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, green beans, peas, carrots, onions, potatoes, cucumbers as well as watermelons.

What staff and volunteers do not take home from the harvest throughout the summer goes directly to the Food Bank for Larimer County and the community of Fort Collins and Northern Colorado. The ELC Organic Garden allows us a chance to give back to the local community while facilitating educational experiences in local food production. Last year the ELC Organic Garden yielded a total of 913 pounds of fresh produce in total, an equivalent of over 1,400$.

Some of the most recent improvements include the renovation of last years pumpkin patch(below) to house this year’s crop of watermelons. Since pumpkins only took up space and gave the deer something to much on, it was decided that this year's pumpkin patch would instead be used to grow something red and delicious.

You also may remember these wildflower beds(below left) that seemed to grow more weeds than flowers, well this year the growing has gone three dimensional, with the addition of these spiffy new rock garden beds(below right). Rather than planting on flat ground, these beds will take advantage of gravity and add some much needed elevation to the centerpiece of the garden.

If YOU would like to lend a hand planting, growing, or harvesting the ELC Organic Garden or to learn more about gardening in general contact us via our website, www.cnr.colostate.edu/elc, and sign-up to become a registered volunteer, where you will recieve updates about future volunteer opportunities at the CSU Environmental Learning Center.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


If you've not seen the Poudre River in the past few days you might want to take a look. Excessive snow melt and consecutive days of rain have lead to extremely high water levels along riparian areas in and around town. A great example of this happens to be the ELC, situated directly in the middle of the Poudre River.

Many of the trails at the ELC have become flooded and washed out with the rise and fall of water levels over the past weeks and will need to be repaired once the river falls back to its normal flow.

Washed out trails have made it difficult for this week's summer camp, Front Range Safari, to take place without getting slightly wet while hiking around the short loop. Most of the long loop, and still some sections of the short loop are underwater.

If you do decide to adventure across the bridge to reach the trails at the ELC, please do so with extreme caution. We recommend that you proceed to the right on the short loop rather than the left, as it is no longer flooded. More information regarding high water will follow in the coming weeks. Stay safe!

Evil Little Things...

As part of the ELC's promise to remain a public nature center providing access to protected areas, much of the work we do involves maintaining the landscape of the Environmental Learning Center. A fundamental part of keeping our ecosystems healthy and beautiful is our ongoing battle with invasive and exotic plant species on our trails.

The ELC is home to a wide variety of weeds, thistles, vines, and toxic shrubs. Some of these species are relatively easity to manage and prevent, however some take years and years before they can even begin to be reduced. In order to provide visitors with information regarding many of the ELC's invasive species, we've prepared a small list of things you might find during these summer months.

Perhaps the mose widespread species currently infesting the trail system of the ELC is Leafy Spurge. This invader grows an extensive root system, and cannot be controled by pulling, burning, or grazing with animals. In addition this species crowds other native species and degrades suitable habitat for wildlife.

Tamarisk is another widespread invasive species throughout the west. Growing mostly on the banks of rivers and riparian areas, Tamarisk, or Salt Cedar, consumes extremely high amounts of water and alters soil salinity for native species.

Russian Olive is an invasive tree species that also grows on the banks of streams and rivers. These trees can grow extremely large and have thorns that make removal and treatment difficult, they also crowd native willow and cottonwood species in riparian areas.

Musk Thistle grows in patches throughout the ELC's trails, and spreads across the landscape when its flowers bloom and seeds are carried by the wind. Management of thistle at the ELC has included removing the flowering heads before they bloom.

Canada Thistle is another invasive thistle species at the ELC. Unfortunately, Canada Thistle cannot be managed by removing flowers because it also reproduces through its root structure and must be treated chemically.

Dalmatian Toadflax currently grows in small patches in random areas of the ELC. Its yellow flowers and tall stalks make it unique among native plant species.

Wooly Mullen is yet another widespread invasive species found at the ELC. A biennial plant, this species spends its first year as a leafy base before shooting up stalks during the second year. Mullen stalks contain hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds and must be burned after removal.

Teasel is a newly discovered invasive species at the ELC, and must be managed in the same way as Mullen. Teasel's spiky flowers and stalks make it a difficult species to remove and dispose of.

Cheatgrass, or Smooth Brome, is an invasive grass species currently dominating the ELC's landscape. Cheatgrass outcompetes native grass species and crowds nearly all open areas, its early growing season and resistance to fire and grazing make it extremely difficult to manage.

Other invasive species such as Dame's Rocket, Hounds Tongue, and Bindweed have also been identified at the ELC, but as of now not enough is known about these species to properly manage them.

Seize the Carp!

While our annual volunteer extravaganza "Carpe Diem" had absolutely nothing to do with seizing carp, as most of our event fliers and advertisements would have you believe, it did have everything to do with accomplishing a great deal of volunteer service learning in the form of many projects in a single morning. In case you missed this year's ELC "Carpe Diem"(Seize the Day) Volunteer Day, we've created this post to help you experience much of what went down while you were asleep the morning of Apri 17th, 2010.

The began early on a cold Saturday morning as ELC staff frantically prepared final arrangements for the volunteer crews arriving later that morning. Coffee flowed freeley from the ten gallon containers ,courtesy of Starbucks Coffee, and staff members mixed over breakfast snacks donated by local Sunflower Market. Bossman Brett Bruyere, seen here, administered yellow head protection to staff members in order to both foster a false sense of safety and set staff apart from the rest of the crowd.

Nicole TimmonsStafford works furiously to count volunteers as they arrive, over 150 volunteers were recorded at this year's Carpe Diem event.

Volunteer groups from both Colorado State University and the Fort Collins community participated in the various service projects throughout the morning.

Groups were assigned to projects such as trail construction and maintenance, native tree and shrub planting, removal of an old bridge, the construction of a nature viewing area, removal of invasive species, and a river access trail.

Additional projects took place in the compost, greenhouse, and organic garden preparing seedlings and irrigation lines for Spring and Summer.

Groups met at noon for lunch ,provided by Pudge Brothers Pizza, for a brief break from service learning and to reorganize volunteers to projects that would need more help in the afternoon.

Two former CSU Alternative Break groups, one CSUnity group of Collegiate Scholars, CSU Greeks from Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Sigma, students fro Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism Class 331, and a multitude of good-hearted individuals and families mingled over cheap pizza refreshments before returning for the second half of the service day.

Below(left), volunteers work to break new trail in the place of an old and rotting bridge.

Above(right), volunteers dig up Canada Thistle along the Wetland Wonder trail at the ELC.

Overall, "Carpe Diem" 2010 went as well as it could have. Plenty of volunteers participated despite forecasts of snow and rain, and nearly every project was completed before the end of the day when the weather began to turn. Members of the ELC staff would like to thank our donors, local community volunteers, and CSU students for their help in making this year's "Carpe Diem" celebration a success!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Powered by the Sun!

This past Monday, twelve of Fort Collins' finest youth learned first-hand what it means to be powered by the sun. Had it not been for the sun on such a cold morning, we might have been huddled next to the space heaters scattered inside the nature center. Instead, we used solar and kinetic energy to warm up for a day of hands-on learning! After playing tag for a bit, we modeled electric currents, wrote folk tales about the meaning of the sun, walked the entire solar system (well, we did not get out to Pluto), and toured a solar panel on the CSU campus. We had fun and managed to stay warm! We still have four Great School Escapes this semester. Register now to join in on our adventures.

The rest of February will be pretty quiet around here. We will hold our monthly Service Saturday on Saturday, February 27th. Come out and help us ready the ELC for spring. Bring a friend or two with you!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Home Improvements

Over the past six months or so, the ELC nature center has had a shadow cast over it by one man and a plethora of power tools, some paint, particle board, and a passion for putting things together. Collin Jacobsen(AKA "CJtelemarker," "The Craftsman," "Mr. Goodwrench," or simply "CJ", which is Jesus Christ's initials backwards, who was also a carpenter, but not as good as Collin) has taken home improvements at the ELC to a new level.

Beginning with the widescale removal of unnecessary junk and copious amounts of rodent fecal matter, not to mention the recovery of one life-size coffin, Collin began organizing the ELC in a way that will soon become legendary. Where once there was a crappy curtain, now stands not one, but TWO doors, WITH a handle!

Where once beaver costumes, programming bins, and random nature crafts were strewn about with no particular method to the madness, they now fall neatly into place, compartmentalized and simple, elegant yet bold like a Zen garden, special thanks to Emily and Alysse who undertook the task of organizing these items.

Remember the speckled orange carpet that more closely resembled a bacteria trap for dust bunnies? Well now you don't have to! Collin instead has plans for a slick new tile vibe that is sure to compliment the easy forest green paint that now hugs the walls of the classroom, very soothing.

Collin has also removed the unsightly protruberance that previously occupied the center of the building extreme home makeover style, shedding some much needed light evenly throughout the building. Energy now flows "feng shui" throughout the nature center on a light breeze that reeks of learning.

A chic cluster of cubbies, occupying the northwest corner, exudes beauty in the form of much needed storage space for the packs of children who will be frolocking through the new nature center 2.0 as they listen, comprehend, analyze, and reflect more than ever before.

Thanks again Collin! We're excited to see how these home improvements turn out and what exciting new projects "The Craftsman" has in store for us in the coming months. Stay tuned my friends.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A New Year

Happy New Year! There is not too much to report these days as the weather has been so cold it has kept me indoors on most days. We have, however, opened up registration for our spring Great School Escapes (GSEs). We will hold five GSE's this semester: February 15, March 12, April 16, April 19 and May 14. The topic for February will be the Sun! We'll explore solar energy from various perspectives and attempt to answer the question, "What does the sun do for us (kids in America)?" Get online and register today because space is limited and these always fill up!