Photo by Matt Stensland
A red-winged blackbird flies last week over Haymaker Golf Course, which is an Audubon International Signature certified site because of the course's efforts to maintain a natural habitat for the area's native species. To keep its certified status, the course must continue to improve its offerings of lush greens.
Steamboat Springs Haymaker Golf Course is a good place for birdies - on and off the fairways.
With sustainability efforts and a reduced use of pesticides and water, the Steamboat Springs city-owned golf course is hoping to make a name in environmental sustainability as it protects wetland areas across the course to support native species.
Because of the course's efforts, it earned an Audubon International Signature certification, the first course in Colorado to achieve that distinction.
But to maintain the status, environmental consultant Lyn Halliday, president of Environmental Solutions Unlimited, said the course must continue to improve and balance lush greens with the dangers of too much pesticide or herbicide.
"They are always tweaking things," she said. "What a lot of the folks who manage these kinds of facilities are finding is that it's not always 'the more, the better.' Different parts of your course require different amounts of water. Different times of year and different types of turf all have different demands."
Washwater and irrigation water on the course are treated and recycled, and more than half of the course (130 acres) was preserved as natural open space, including 30 acres of undisturbed wetlands and 59 acres of undisturbed native grasslands.
Local bird watcher Tom Litteral, with the Yampa Valley Birding Club, said he was happy the course managers took natural habitats into consideration when building the site.
"It's very impressive what they have saved in addition to the construction of the course to allow a friendly arrangement between birds where they can feed and actually do the golf course a favor and remove some insects that they would normally have to use insecticide (on)," he said.
Although some people might consider a lake more attractive if there were no tall grasses around the edges, Litteral said the course designers did the right thing by cultivating a natural marsh atmosphere.
"They could have made them into sterile lakes with no vegetation along the edges, which, in a way, would meet someone else's idea for prettiness, but in a natural landscape, you need : vegetation along the edges. It allows feeding, resting and nesting areas," he said.
Yampatika Executive Director Sonja Macys, the former director of the Audubon Society of Tuscon, said the balance between the manicured and natural is tricky to maintain.
"Pesticides are a pretty big double-edged sword as far as the environment goes. In some cases, a light coating of pesticides may be the only way to remove non-native species," she said. "Because we are so accustomed to beautiful lush green lawns, golf courses have been pointed at as a place that overdoes it."
But Macys said the wide variety of birds visible at the golf course show that native birds are able to thrive, including red-tailed hawks, kestrels and Swainson's hawks.
"A golf course with a wide open space like that is good for those raptors to get a bird's eye view of what's down there for lunch," she said.
The business side of the golf course also is working to increase sustainability, said Karen Riggio, general manager of the on-site Staxx restaurant.
"We only buy nontoxic cleaners that we use for sanitizing and cleaning in the kitchen, and most of those are also not in aerosol cans but they're concentrate that we dilute with water," she said, in order to save packaging and make the cleaner last longer.
Recycling centers also have been set up around the center, and guests are encouraged to use the option. Head golf professional Hank Franks said it's a work in progress.
"We still have some educating to do out on the course, but the staff is dedicated to sorting out recyclables and delivering them to the recycling center," he said in a news release.
Halliday agreed and said that although the course has made strides in increasing sustainability, the work can't stop.
"There's never really a finish line for sustainability. It's continually improving and finding new ways and new technology," she said.