The garden of youth

Study Buddy program creates children's area at Yampa River Botanic Park

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— Nearly 400 students from the Steamboat Springs and Soroco school districts recently finished creating a Children's Garden at Yampa River Botanic Park.

The Yampa River Ecology Program, also known as the "Study Buddy Stewardship Project," teamed biology students from Steamboat Springs and Soroco high schools with the first-graders of the Steamboat Springs School District plus the second-graders at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

The Study Buddy program is in its fourth year.

The goal was to build a garden for children at the park.

"The main purpose is for kids to feel welcome," project coordinator Elaine Sturges said. "It is their own interactive place."

Sturges met with Botanic Park officials Bob Enever and Gayle Noonan and worked together to bring the study buddies to the Botanic Park for five Thursdays this summer.

The study buddies finished their final week of working and learning at the Children's Garden on July 10.

A few days later, two handcrafted wood and metal archways were installed.

When some of the younger children visited the botanic garden, Noonan talked to the children about their vision for the children's garden.

Many of the ideas were incorporated into the garden or planned for installation, Sturges said.

Sturges said she got the idea about three years ago by visiting a similar garden in the Fullerton Arboretum at California State University.

She brought the idea and a number of photos to landscape architect Susan Corser.

Corser drew the plans for the garden, which included the archways, a small amphitheater, a waterfall with a small pond, a beanpole teepee, a playhouse and a walking trail.

The walking trail was built and so was the teepee.

The program did not receive enough funding for the other items, but Sturges said the items would probably be constructed within the next couple of years.

When all the details were ironed out and Botanic Park staff built the rock walkway for the garden, the study buddies met at the site June 12.

The buddies planted crabapples, honeysuckles and other types of deciduous trees, sunflowers, daffodils and vegetables. They planted radishes, zucchini, pumpkins, peas, garlic, onions and potatoes.

They also built and painted birdhouses for swallows, bluebirds, robins, finches and others along the north fence of the Botanic Garden.

Eight-year-old Calyx Ward said she learned the importance of "tickling the roots" while planting.

"You have to pull the roots down to replant a flower," said Ward, who attended almost every meeting at the park. "It was fun. Mostly everything I had fun with."

Some study buddies also painted rocks, adding their names to some of the rocks.

They also planted cottonwood and dogwood trees along the walkway to the main entrance to the Botanic Park.

The students learned from Botanic Park staff the process and importance of composting, weeding and maintaining the garden.

The study buddies worked together throughout the school year, as well.

Teachers got together in August with Sturges to organize study buddy teams, plan field trips and stewardship projects, including building and planting the garden.

In September, the study buddies visited each other's classrooms and discussed science topics with the help of books, microscopes and terrariums.

Several study buddy teams took field trips to the Finger Rock Fish Hatchery, the Stagecoach Wetland Trail at Stagecoach State Park and later, the Carpenter Ranch in Hayden.

The study buddies also participated in several science presentations at their schools.

Some will continue to maintain the garden over the summer, while others will return next summer to add to the Children's Garden.

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