Steward of the Audubon Nature Preserve at Connected Lakes needs replacement | PostIndependent.com
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Steward of the Audubon Nature Preserve at Connected Lakes needs replacement

Sharon Sullivan
ssullivan@gjfreepress.com
Sharon Sullivan / Free Press
Staff Photo |

Wanted: Volunteer Coordinator

The position requires property management supervision of the Audubon Nature Preserve in Grand Junction. Must be able to supervise volunteers working in small groups. Should be able to identify the work that needs to be accomplished for safety and improving the natural appeal of the property. There are many volunteers who are willing to help, but need to be supervised. This is a non-paid position for a nonprofit and might require as little as four hours a month. Major projects may include Friday and Saturday work for six or seven hours with groups up to 18. All tools necessary for this position are furnished.

If interested, contact Bob Wilson at audubongv@gmail.com. For more information, visit audubongv.org.

A Killdeer bird scurried nervously nearby as Bob Wilson and Bennett Boeschenstein walked along a trail in the Audubon Nature Preserve at 610 Dike Rd.

“He has a nest — he’s trying to get us away from it,” Wilson said.

In a cottonwood tree further along the trail, Wilson spotted a Bullock’s oriole nest full of young birds.



“There are six nests on the property,” Wilson said. “(Baltimore orioles) are a brilliant orange and black. They weave that nest and use it over and over.”

Wilson noticed horsehair in the nest, as well as spiderwebs that allow the nest to “expand as the young get bigger,” he said. “It was half that size when she laid her eggs.”



Wilson, Nic Korte, Cary Atwood and other Grand Valley Audubon Society members led a series of guided bird walks in the nature preserve this spring. Each of the “Wake up with the Birds” walks drew about a dozen people.

“We’d see 20 different species during an hour-and-a-half walk,” Wilson said.

The wetlands area along the Audubon Trail and Connected Lakes area is perfect for birds,” Wilson noted.

Two “bird blinds” — multi-sided wooden structures with strategically-placed windows that slide open and shut — allow for unobtrusive bird-watching.

Located behind the Albertson’s Shopping Center between the Colorado River and the Redlands Power Company canal, the preserve is lush with native grasses and cottonwood trees that Wilson and other volunteers planted, and rabbit brush that grew on its own. The area is home to coyotes, beavers and bobcats; deer and elk migrate there.

Before the Audubon Society took charge of the property in 2002, the area was mostly brown and barren, except for the non-native, thirsty tamarisks.

A dream come true

The nature preserve lies adjacent to the Audubon Trail, a one-and-a-half mile trail that goes from the canal’s hydroelectric plant to Connected Lakes State Park.

The late James M. Robb envisioned a paved trail along the Colorado River that would eventually link Garfield County to the Utah border and Grand Junction to Delta, with parks along the way. Each section of the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park system — Island Acres in De Beque Canyon, Corn Lake on 32 Road, Connected Lakes, and Fruita — were once mined for gravel by private companies.

Colorado purchased the properties after they were mined out (except for the county-owned property along Dike Road) and turned them into parks using Great Outdoors Colorado lottery money, said Boeschenstein, a Grand Junction city councilman and a member of Audubon.

The gravel companies carved out ponds at each of the sites.

Trail proponents acquired a $50,000 state trails grant to build the Audubon Trail, for which Mesa County had allocated matching funds. But the county decided it didn’t have the resources for the upkeep of a new trail.

Boeschenstein, then a county planner, asked the Grand Valley Audubon Society if it would agree to maintain the trail if built. The Audubon Society said “yes.”

Thus, the first portion of the Colorado Riverfront Trail was created — a trail that now stretches nearly 30 miles from 33 Road to 16 Road.

THE BACKSTORY

In 2002, the county donated 35 acres for the preserve, adding to five acres donated by the gravel company that once operated there and the 25-acre Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary.

Wilson and his bank of volunteers set out to reclaim the site, including the removal of invasive tamarisk and planting five acres of native grasses and hundreds of cottonwoods.

With the help of GOCO lottery money, an irrigation system was installed to get the new plants started. Now established, the native plants no longer need watering.

Youth from the Western Colorado Conservation Corps helped Wilson construct the “Birding for Everyone” trail at the Lucy Ela Wildlife Sanctuary — a trail that accommodates people in wheelchairs and the visually impaired.

Wilson also finds willing workers from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Work-Ender program, where people arrested for minor offenses can complete their sentences by working for nonprofit organizations on the weekend.

“They love to come out here. It’s outdoors; they’re doing something constructive. They really work,” Wilson said.

Wilson recalled an 18-year-old who was performing community service at the preserve. He remembered the teenager saying, “I’ve been here before, when I was in the fifth grade,” on a bird-banding field trip with the Audubon Society.

“The kid went through the entire curriculum of that bird-banding class, almost word for word,” including details about their migrations, the scientific measurements, the weighing of the birds, Wilson said.

TIME TO RETIRE

Wilson has organized volunteers to plant vegetation, pick up trash, remove downed trees and other hazards from the trail, as well as build special projects like the “Birding for Everyone Trail.”

Now 80, Wilson is looking for someone to take over the volunteer coordination of maintaining the Audubon property.

“Plenty will help, but we need a leader, someone good at organizing,” current Audubon President Nic Korte said.

Once, when Wilson had 500 cottonwood seedlings to plant, 45 volunteers showed up and the job was completed within an hour.

Those trees now grow alongside old-growth cottonwoods 80 years old.

“I would be glad to show someone how to do everything,” Wilson said.

Walking through the area, Wilson casually points out a squirrel hole, tamarisk-eating beetle larvae, and narrow leaf cattails — a new find that recently appeared in the wetlands area.

“These wetlands are important to the total ecosystem, for oxygen, and habitat. There are not many wetlands left in Colorado,” Boeschenstein said.

So we created this one, Wilson said.


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