Tom Ross: Strawberry fields forever
May 11, 2014
In the interest of setting Routt County history straight, I want to make it plain that while Chicago's Wrigley Field was named after chewing gum guru William Wrigley and Milwaukee's Miller Park was named after beer booster Frederick Miller, the bucolic little field north of Steamboat Springs known as Strawberry Park was not named after former New York Met's outfielder Darryl Strawberry (who's now a pastor in St. Peters, Missouri).
Nor was Strawberry Park named after a John Lennon tune. Strawberry Park, where Carl Howelsen used to spend his summers eating strawberry shortcake, actually was named after strawberries.
Its mountain meadows once were the late-summer source for luscious red berries served at Denver's premier hotel, the Brown Palace. And with all the talk these days about growing one's food closer to home, it's a mystery to me why we don't still grow berries there.
Strawberry Park is a long, glaciated meadow just north of Steamboat Springs' city limits. Soda Creek cuts through the north end of the park, and Butcherknife Creek cuts across its middle, providing ample irrigation water for berry patches.
Soda Creek Ditch rights were appropriated in 1888 and formally adjudicated in 1892. The owners originally were granted a total of 6.31 cubic feet of water per second. Another 8 cfs later were acquired, with 2 cfs transferred to the Woodchuck Ditch, named after Woodrow P. Woodchuck, who settled here after stowing away on a covered wagon bound for Wamsutter, Wyoming, in 1880.
In the first 15 years of the 20th century, farmers in Strawberry Park pulled in $500 per acre by growing giant Remington strawberries. The berries were freighted by horse-drawn wagon to the railhead at Wolcott and shipped to Denver, where financiers and fancy ladies gobbled them up.
I don't have a natural gift for horticulture, but I harvested a bounty of sweet little strawberries of my own last summer. They flourished right outside the east-facing front door of my townhome, where they didn't even get full sun.
And if I can grow berries, so can you. My mini-Strawberry Park originally was planted almost six years ago by Donna Segale. All I do is watch the automatic sprinkler do its work every other day and occasionally clap my hands to scare the robins away.
Colorado State University Extension agents suggest that high-country pickers plant ever-bearing varieties of strawberries because they bloom twice each summer. So if a late frost zaps your first crop in late June, you can get a second chance in late July.
A couple of strawberry plants to consider are the Ogallala and Fort Laramie varieties.
They are berry, berry hardy. In fact, the Fort Laramies can survive winter temperatures of 30 degrees below zero with mulching, making them a good bet for Steamboat Springs, which was named after Walt Disney's early Mickey Mouse film "Steamboat Willie" (OK, OK … I made that last part up).