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Firestone to Replace Turf Grass with Native Seeds in Two Parks Next Spring; Longmont Could Follow

September 14, 2018

Cristina Gonzalez and Abigail Gonzalez, 2, both of Loveland, throw the ball for their dog, Amy, at Settlers Park in Firestone on Thursday. The park is one of two in the town that will be reseeded with native grasses in the spring.

Native seeds will replace turfy grasses in two Firestone parks next spring, bringing a new aesthetic with the goal of conserving the town’s water.

The initiative could spread to Longmont, too, where officials plan to put a group of staff together this fall to look into the pros and cons of starting similar native seed sowing on the city’s public lands.

“Some of those motivators would include water conservation, trying to reduce our carbon footprint, enhancing native vegetation, therefore increasing plant and pollinator diversity, along with simply providing a landscape that is more sustainable to the Longmont ecosystem,” Longmont Land Program Manager Dan Wolford said.

In Firestone, Settler’s and Mountain Shadows parks will be the first two areas to undergo transformations of their landscapes, with town officials aiming to remove thirsty sod species like Kentucky bluegrass and replace them with less water-needy grasses.

“The town wants to utilize this approach to conserve water resources and to be an education tool for the community to illuminate the idea that Colorado’s beauty comes not only from the traditional turf, but from the native prairie as well,” consultant THK Associates, an Aurora firm, said last month in a manual it prepared for the town.

Plans to convert the parks to native seeds were conceived after THK last year tested soil conditions in seven Firestone parks — Sagebrush, Patterson, Gateway, Firestone, Stoneridge, Mountain Shadows and Heart — and found nitrate levels in each were “extremely low,” according to an April memo to the town.

Low nitrate levels mean there are minimal amounts of nutrients available in the soil, which causes turf grass to need more water and care to protect its color.

Stoneridge, Mountain Shadows, Heart and Firestone parks also showed high concentrations of excess lime and alkaline pH levels, which make soil nutrients unavailable to grasses and causes them to turn yellow from iron deficiency.

Estimates show water use reductions of 37 percent could occur in both Settler’s and Mountain Shadows parks as a result of the native seed conversion, Firestone Director of Community Resources Julie Pasillas said.

“We are beginning with (Settler’s and Mountain Shadows) parks in the spring, but our goal is to look at any optimal areas in all of our parks that would be ideal for native grass,” Assistant Town Manager Jennifer Weinberger said.

Converting to native seeds will cost about $30,000 for each park, Weinberger said.

Soil in Longmont parks has not been preliminarily tested, Wolford said, but city staff has visited Denver parks, where seed conversions have taken place, to observe the effects.

Re-seeding Settler’s and Mountain Shadows parks in Firestone was originally scheduled to start this month, but the Board of Trustees last week decided it should be pushed back until spring since recent nighttime temperatures have been dipping into the 50s, making conditions less ideal for planting.

The postponement will allow the town to provide more information to residents on which parks’ landscapes will change “with conversion areas highlighted” along with for visual and water conservation expectations, Pasillas said.

A seed mix of 20 percent of both perennial rye and intermediate wheatgrass, along with 15 percent each of orchardgrass, smooth brome, pubescent wheatgrass and Dahurian wildrye has been recommended by THK.

“This (delay) will allow additional time for seed mix selection as well. Currently we are evaluating a few different varieties and will be selecting the right fit (for) Firestone,” Pasillas said.

A mix of the THK-recommended proportions of each grass was tested in Mountain Shadows Park, and during the 2018 growing season did not require any supplemental water, according to a THK memo sent to the town last month.

THK also has called for seed mixes heavy on grasses of certain height for varying park areas, depending on their normal uses.

Short grasses 8 to 12 inches tall, which include perennial rye, are suggested for areas adjacent to trails and walkways and those with a “formal aesthetic” or the need for greater lines of sight; while mid grass 12 to 30 inches tall, such as Thickspike wheatgrass and Rocky Mountain fescue, and tall grasses 30 inches and higher, like switchgrass, were both recommended for areas undesirable for recreation and to define areas with separate uses, like between a seating area and open space.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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