The High Plains Environmental Center Story

On Earth Day 2008, a group of volunteers helped pull out the non-native plants in the park and replaced them with western native plants. The reason for our bias for native plants is that they have a unique ability to sustain the bird and insect pollinators that they co-evolved with. European and Asian plants introduced for landscaping do not offer the same benefits to wildlife. Therefore preserving native plants is key to preserving the wildlife that relies on them. From the perspective of a butterfly it does not matter if their favorite milkweed plant is in a wild open space or someone’s back yard. Utilizing the plants in landscaping can provide “connectivity” through our growing urban corridor with birds and insects literally hopping from plant to plant.

In 2010, our garden was accepted as a Plant Select demonstration garden. Plant Select is an organization that promotes great plants for Colorado. Although not all Plant Select plants are native to the West we have chosen to focus only the native plants in that palette. In 2011 we further expanded out Plant Select demonstration garden with the help of volunteers from Agrium Advanced Technologies.

In 2010, we created a wetland ecology demonstration garden that demonstrates the relationship between available soil moisture, native plant communities and wildlife. The garden consists of a wetland channel that connects the abandoned irrigation canal and Equalizer Lake. Along a trail that runs beside the wetland, visitors can learn about different types of plant communities including upland, sub-irrigated, wetland and aquatic zones, and their corresponding relationship to wildlife. In our fundraising for this project we promised “breeding areas for amphibians” and “daily access to nature for people” and we have been amazed and thrilled at how much this project has delivered on both counts with thousands of woodhouse toads tadpoles the very next season and scores of visitors to the park every day.

We are constantly focused on harmonizing the built and natural environment and one area in Centerra where that has been done exceptionally well is the Lake Vista Apartments. In 2009, a plan was formulated to build a series of apartment buildings adjacent to HPEC. A portion of the building site was a remnant prairie where western wheatgrass (Pascopryum smithii) predominated, dotted with little native gems, such as common starlily (Leucocrinum montanum), scarlet globemallow (Spheralcea coccinea), Nutall’s violet (Viola nuttallii.) and winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata).

Great pains were taken in order to preserve 2.8 acres of this remnant prairie adjacent to the environmental center. The plant palette for the apartment landscaping (adjacent to the open space) with very few exceptions is comprised of Western native plants. Many sustainable features were included in the design of the apartments also including a large community vegetable garden and more than 6 acres open space (the entire project site is 16 acres.)