Nancy Peterson awaits the birds and the bees at the planned site of the Human-Nature Garden along the Rio Grande Trail. Photo by James Steindler

The Rio Grande Trail only gets more marvelous with age — much like Carbondale residents — and new installments along the ARTway continue its beautification. The Carbondale Age Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) is proud to announce its upcoming contribution to the pedestrian pathway. 

The Human-Nature Garden will bring together all walks of life, anywhere on the age spectrum. CAFCI is in the fourth year of a five year strategic plan to become known as an age inclusive organization, not only for older people. “We are all ages, all abilities, all included,” stated CAFCI steering committee member Niki Delson. 

CAFCI was highly influential in the revamping of Eighth Street, currently under construction, to make it more pedestrian friendly. Eighth Street, of course, intersects with the Rio Grande Trail, within a hundred feet of the site planned for the Human-Nature Garden (west of Eighth  Street), linking the accessible corridors. 

CAFCI’s initial interaction with the town was around mobility, explained Delson. Part of being mobile is the ability to take a rest when you need it. Therefore, benches became a priority for CAFCI. Working with Kevin Schorzman, Carbondale’s public works director, benches have been strategically placed along frequented walking routes.

Recently, CAFCI was awarded a $5,000 grant from Rocky Mountain Health Foundation to install additional benches. It was fellow CAFCI committee member Nancy Peterson who suggested, “‘Let’s make this something more than just benches,’” Delson recalled. 

When it became bigger than benches, the CAFCI team realized that $5,000 alone may not cut it. Therefore, CAFCI applied for an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Community Challenge grant, which “is extremely competitive,” said Delson. Out of 3,200 applicants, 260 are granted some of or the full amount sought. CAFCI was fully funded for the amount they requested: $6,000. 

“That will cover the benches and most of the planting,” said Delson. The Rocky Mountain Health Foundation grant can be used for additional features, namely a shade structure. 

“The AARP Community Challenge is a grant program to make tangible improvements

in communities that jump start long-term change,” described the national organization’s press release. “It is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages.”

In a nutshell, the conditions for the AARP grant include building the garden and seating area, holding an opening educational event and receiving press coverage. The catch? Each of these requirements must be met by Nov. 30, 2022. There may be some leeway, partly due to supply chain shortages and delays.

When applying for the challenge grant, CAFCI noted the collaborations the garden will inspire. “This brings together the Creative Arts District, the Age Friendly Community District and the Environmental Bill of Rights for the community,” Delson stated. “It pulls all of this together into a Human-Nature Garden which can be used to teach kids in school, be a place for people to sit and bring the birds and butterflies.” The project will also come together with universal design in mind, laying an ADA accessible pad and installing benches with help from the town.

“One of the gifts of being older is that the opportunities are there but you don’t need to worry about, ‘what does this mean for my future?’” reflected Delson, “It’s so not about any one of us, and that’s freeing.”

The Human-Nature Garden would not be possible without the collaboration of Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), which owns the land where the garden will be located. “A big shoutout to RFTA’s Brett Meredith, trails and corridor manager, and Angela Henderson, assistant director, project management and facilities operations, for their generous support,” added Peterson.

Garden design
The garden will follow xeriscaping principles (little to no irrigation) with all native plant life. In fact, some of the plants that are already at the plot will remain — including sagebrush which may be delicately transplanted, according to Peterson. Planting will commence in autumn. 

Peterson’s personal garden in Carbondale is designated as a Habitat Hero Garden by the National Audubon Society, elements of which the Human-Nature Garden will mimic. The idea is to create a paradise for passersby and “all the other creatures we share this planet with,” Peterson told The Sopris Sun. 

There are already birds in the area, Peterson shared, whilst pointing out a House Sparrow landing on the bike path. She hopes the garden will entice more to visit. Some plants will be left during the winter for their seed pods to attract birds. 

Geneviève Villamizar, local horticulturalist extraordinaire and honorary CAFCI member, is the garden’s lead designer. “We revel in natural ecosystems, as opposed to the oversimplification in traditional landscape approaches that often feel kinda lifeless,” said Villamizar. “We’re not ‘landscaping’ this park, we’re expanding upon what already is and then, ultimately, leaving it to nature.”

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