It has been one year since the City and County of Denver, Colorado, along with Dig Studio, Wilson & Company, Biohabitats and The Butterfly Pavilion hosted our Pollinator BioBlitz at the Heron Pond/Heller/Carpio-Sanguinette Park. What a different world we live in now! This type of experiential, community event is invaluable and hopefully, sometime soon, we will all again be able to host fun, engaging large scale events like this one. The feedback we received shaped the final design for the park and helped communicate the value of pollinators and the park’s natural area to the community. Not to mention, the delighted look on a child’s face when you tell them a caterpillar will turn into a butterfly, right here on this plant, is a rewarding perk as a park planner who may typically only encounter community members at meetings held in gyms. This is just one way that Denver Parks & Recreation is expanding on its outreach opportunities in order to gather feedback about the future of its parks.
We held our BioBlitz as part of June Pollinator Awareness Month, and in coordination with the Parks for Pollinators Bioblitz at the beginning of the design process, not long after the master plan was completed in February. This timing gave us a great opportunity to gather feedback on the early design development (Figure 3).
Figure 1: YouTube video of BioBlitz at Heron Pond/Heller/Carpio-Sanguinette Park
The BioBlitz event encouraged people to come to the park, find, observe and identify pollinators using the iNaturalist interactive smartphone app, and consequently learn, discover and contribute to a larger body of research on pollinators and their habitats. The participants collected 88 observations and identified 46 species. The data gathered has helped the city, the design team, and the community understand how important pollinators are to the redesign of the 80-acre park. It gave us the hands-on insight into how enhancing the already rich pollinator habitat can transform this place into a destination for natural area recreation and education.
Figure 2: Participants of all ages observed, identified and recorded their findings through the iNaturalist app, contributing to a larger body of research. Image credit: Dig Studio
Community members heard about the event through a flyer at the local rec center, email blasts, social media postings, as well as a posting on the city’s project website — and they came out to participate. Participants of all ages came from the neighborhood and beyond. What we heard was that the planned scavenger hunt-like activity was what drew families to come and find out more about the project, and that this type of hands-on educational activity is what this community prefers in order to get people out to experience nature. This people in this neighborhood have limited access to natural areas and open space — factors that impact social equity and mental and physical wellbeing — so finding ways to get them accustomed to coming to this future park creates valuable community awareness.
This community event provided the opportunity for Denver Parks & Recreation staff to engage with the future park users on a more personal level, which leads to a better understanding of the community’s needs, wants and fears.
Figure 3: Community members from the surrounding neighborhood came out to participate in the BioBlitz and learn about the proposed park design. Photo credit: Dig Studio
The consideration for pollinators did not end after the BioBlitz event. The final park design, currently near completion of 100% construction documents, will increase pollinator habitat, awareness and protection. The design incorporates various pollinator gardens (Figure 4), enhanced native zones, bee and bat boxes, enhancements of an existing natural area, wetland and bird habitat enhancements, interpretive signage, and a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) custom butterfly-themed playground (Figure 6). The project is slated to begin construction on Phase 1 at the end of 2020.
Figure 4: A central alameda (shaded promenade) and amphitheater feature pollinator-friendly plantings in conjunction with the community facilities. Photo credit: Dig Studio
Figure 5: A new connection to the South Platte trail and access to the riverfront, complete with pollinator habitat and places for people to pause and enjoy the open space. Photo credit: Dig Studio
Figure 6: Dig Studio incorporated elements of the butterfly life cycle and pollinator habitat into the painted lady butterfly-themed custom playground. Photo credit: Dig Studio and Monstrum
Positive Outcomes since the BioBlitz
As the design was completed, the team continued engaging the community and building on existing social capital. Promoting positive experiences in the park encourages stewardship, ownership and community interaction. The Bioblitz is just one example of how programming brings people out to parks and promotes active lifestyles, learning and participation.
Once built, the park will serve as a catalyst for community stewardship of the site, leadership opportunities and even more events. These opportunities will continue to bolster social capital and improve social equity through access to nature in North Denver. Preserving the park as a pollinator paradise (and hosting more events like the Bioblitz) is important, because, after all, as one 6-year-old participant remarked, “This is a great place to look for bugs!”.
Interested in learning more about BioBlitzes? You can also sign up to host a Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz this September in your own community and receive tools to help you plan a virtual event with physical distancing in mind. If your agency signs up to host a BioBlitz during the month of September, not only will you be helping raise pollinator awareness, you will also be entered to win a $1,000 prize and one of three ScottsMiracle-Gro prize packs to help with your pollinator habitats or programs!
The Parks for Pollinators campaign, hosted through a partnership between the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and The ScottsMiracle-Gro Foundation, aims to raise public awareness of the pollinator crisis and encourage local action through public parks and recreation. NRPA and The ScottsMiracle-Gro Foundation believe parks play a key role in protecting and preserving pollinators and their habitats. Together, as part of the ScottsMiracle-Gro’s GroMoreGood initiative, they are working to educate more children, families and communities about the importance of pollinators and what people can do to help.
Gretchen Wilson, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP, is the Principal and Founder of Dig Studio. Louise Bordelon is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Denver and Interim Chair of Landscape Architecture. Cinceré Eades is a Parks Resiliency Principal Planner for City and County of Denver.