In a daze near Denver…High Plains Environmental Center

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The High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC) is a non-profit (501c3) organization located in the Lakes at Centerra neighborhood in Loveland, Colorado. HPEC manages open space for the Centerra Metro district, homeowner’s associations and other landowners. In the simplest terms, revenues from those management fees support the operation and projects of the center. The organization’s website http://www.suburbitat.org has a wealth of information about the vision that inspired the center and the road it has taken to result in the current method of operation.

THE MEDICINE WHEEL GARDEN

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The under-construction Medicine Wheel Garden is an ethnobotany garden which features plants that are used by Native American tribes of the Great Plains for food, medicine, and ceremony. The site also hosts powwows with regional third grade classes. The plants in the slightly raised, cut stone bordered beds which form a circle are just recently planted and very small.

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Looking back toward the HPEC’s office building it is obvious that this is not a manicured garden space but a natural space whose primary goal is that of environmental stewardship and education. They are focused on community outreach rather than elaborate structures. Executive Director Jim Tolstrup shared that everything on their site, save the actual buildings, has been built by volunteers.

The geographical area known as the High Plains or Front Ridge enjoys 300+ days of sunshine a year and rarely more than 15″ of rainfall. It is a rich habitat for both wild life and plant life.

Centerra is a 3500 acre mixed use, master planned community in which people can live in harmony with nature, work and play. Seventy-six acres of land, three miles of trails and two lakes totaling over 200 additional acres are managed by HPEC. They work to create sustainable landscapes, restore native plant communities, and provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. In addition to the Medicine Wheel Garden, the site includes a Native Plants Demonstration Garden, an Heirloom Fruit Orchard, a Community Garden, a Native Plant Nursery and a kids area they call the Wild Zone.

NATIVE PLANTS DEMONSTRATION GARDEN

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We don’t always co-ordinate our outfits to the border colors!

The Native Plants Demonstration Garden showcases Colorado native plants and promotes a regionally appropriate style of horticulture that celebrates the natural beauty of the state, conserves water, reduces reliance on pesticides and fertilizer, and provides habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

This very long double border contains trees, shrubs and perennials. This area had snow only a couple of weeks ago and thus is having a very late spring. Lots of healthy foliage throughout the border but not as many blooms as I had hoped for.

Although the Falugia paradoxa, commonly called Apache plume, on which these flowers and seed heads were born was pretty well past its prime, there were still many of the clear white blooms and even more of the fluffy, plume-like developing seed heads. I first saw this shrub in Austin and have lusted after one ever since.

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The mountain ninebark, Physocarpus monogynus, was in full bloom.

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Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’, the Montgomery spruce, is not only structural and sturdy but also provides a pop of blue gray to the border. Denver gold columbine is seen in the foreground.

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Several nice colonies of showy milkweed caught everyone’s eye.

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A logistically lucky shot caught its flower in all stages.

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I think the penstemon were the stars of today’s show. I think this is Penstemon strictus, the Rocky Mountain penstemon.

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Penstemon grandiflorus

THE HEIRLOOM FRUIT ORCHARD

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Northern Colorado was once a significant fruit growing region. Apples, plums, cherries and blackberries with historic significance have been collected and are grown here, celebrating and preserving a piece of Colorado history.

THE COMMUNITY GARDEN

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The Jeffers barn at the far end bears this banner–Nourishing Children Through Nature–what an inspiring thought

Garden plots here are cultivated by local families and the garden serves as an outdoor classroom for instructional the cultivation of food crops.

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A living willow tunnel connects this garden to the Native Plants Demonstration Garden

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Talking red wigglers with staff member Lauren

THE NATIVE PLANT NURSERY

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The NATIVE PLANT NURSERY works in conjunction with the demonstration garden to help local homeowners establish their own native plant focused landscapes–they can see what mature plants look like and how they perform and then purchase their own small starts. The nursery grows over 80 species and propagates much of what is planted throughout the center. Plant sales provide an additional revenue stream for the HPEC.

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THE WILD ZONE

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The Wild Zone is an area dedicated to letting kids be kids in an unstructured natural environment. The signage says, “Please DO climb on the rocks, wiggle your toes in the water and create your own art projects using natural materials found here. Go Wild!

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The High Plains Environmental Center is both proud of and passionate about its commitment to the community and Colorado’s natural world. Jim Tolstrup shared that Centerra has been registered as Colorado’s first National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat–way to go!

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3 thoughts on “In a daze near Denver…High Plains Environmental Center

  1. I had always though of native plants as something that were important only in California. I was surprised that those in Oklahoma are also interested in their natives, even though they do not have as many as California does. I noticed the same enthusiasm in Nevada. It sort of makes one wonder what natives would be if states had been divided up differently. If California ever gets divided into three states, or even just two, our natives would be completely different.

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