Monument Stewards volunteers support native vegetation along connector trail

The Daily Sentinel, September 9, 2021—When the Monument Connector Trail was completed in early 2020, there were plans to support the paved path from the riverfront to the Lunch Loops Trailhead with a group of volunteers. Then COVID-19 hit.

Libby Collins, Western Colorado Land Trust [sic] project manager, said at first they had to shut down volunteer programs, but the Monument Stewards, the group’s name, were able to figure out a way to get the plans back on track.

“The pandemic hit, but we figured out how to do it safely,” Collins said. “We’re outside and everyone stayed separate. What we realized was the volunteers, the stewards, were just really thrilled to be able to come and interact outdoors, do something, and feel safe. So we just kept it going throughout the pandemic.”

The group, which meets every Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. at the Lunch Loops Trailhead, includes about 20 dedicated volunteers and is directed by the Land Trust and Eureka! Science Museum. They pull weeds, water native plants and generally keep the area around the 1.5 miles path maintained. The goal is to instill a stewardship ethic in those who enjoy open space, Collins said.

“Down below the parking lot is a whole demonstration area of native plants,” Collins said. “We started planning this effort before the trail was finished, got some funding, seed money to start it.”

Experts on native plants have come and helped the stewards identify what’s native versus invasive. The volunteers will pull weeds around the natives to give them space to grow and mature.

“We’re trying to do it along the path because that’s where everyone is going to experience the most natives and kind of in neighboring areas,” Collins said. “This is a mile and a half long, so it’s a lot.”

When the contractor came in to build the trail they disturbed a lot of soil, which leads to weeds popping up, Collins said. Native seeds were sprayed over the area, but without volunteer support, they are often overtaken by those weeds.

If this volunteer group wasn’t taking these actions, the weeds would likely overtake the path, which would become an issue for the city of Grand Junction. Collins said the city can spray the weeds, but that it is an expensive process.

“So we’re saving the city dollars, manpower,” Collins said. “We’re partnering with them to make this area beautiful. This is city-owned land. The Land Trust bought it and gave it to the city.”

The city has been appreciative, Collins said and even reached out to see if the stewards could perform a similar function around the botanical gardens at Las Colonias Park. The city also partners with the stewards to provide a cistern for irrigating the native plants.

This type of volunteer group isn’t a new idea, Collins said. Nonprofits around the city like the Audubon Society, RiversEdge West and Colorado Canyons Association have similar stewardship groups. This group, having formed during the pandemic, provided a benefit not just to the land and trail, but to the volunteers as well, Collins said.

“Everyone is just really working together and collaborating and partnering and building off of each other’s knowledge and effort,” Collins said. “It’s just really great and really fun.”

By Dan West

To read this article on The Daily Sentinel Website, click here.