Volunteers use seed bombs to plant native wildflowers at Rifle Gap State Park
For officials at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a lot of the work that goes into managing state parks is controlling nonnative species.
Invasive plants can spread easily, whether from a seed stuck on the lace of your shoe or from the fur of your dog.
At Rifle Gap State Park, officials are hoping to encourage the growth of native species — particularly wildflowers — in the hopes of attracting native pollinators.
Rifle Gap State Park, about 8 miles north of Rifle, is home to Rifle Gap Reservoir, which sits at the base of the Grand Hogback. The reservoir is popular with boaters, stand-up paddle boarders and anglers. The native vegetation in the surrounding park is mostly sagebrush, but there is an obvious lack of bee-attracting wildflowers.
Local nonprofit Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife had an event to educate people on native pollinators and help with wildflower planting on May 14. The event was family friendly, featuring work for folks of all ages and capabilities.
The agency chose to plant these wildflowers in the form of seed bombs — small mud balls with everything a seed needs to germinate — as opposed to other methods of planting, such as using a tractor and seed drill.
Mike Evans, a resource technician with CPW who works at Rifle Gap, Rifle Falls and Harvey Gap state parks, said seed bombs are the best way to ensure that the seeds don’t attract the kind of visitor that may overindulge.
“We’ll have a bunch of fat birds around," he said. "We don’t want to feed birds with seed mix. So we put it in this way so that the birds can’t get to it. Make sure that it’ll germinate.”
The seed bombs are composed of clay, compost, potting soil, seed mix and water. The seed mix contains about 70% wildflowers and 30% native grasses. The proportion is a reversal of what usually makes up these mixes. Some of the native wildflowers include yellow prairie coneflower, arrowleaf balsamroot and black-eyed Susan.
Volunteers formed the mixture into balls that fit in the palm of a hand and then scattered them throughout the park.
Evans said the yearslong process is necessary to force invasive plants out and help native plants return. He wants to focus particularly on the front of the Rifle Gap visitors center, where nonnative plants were brought in as part of the landscaping.
“One of the things I’d like to do is get rid of this fescue grass that’s in here," he said. "We pay people to mow, we pay people to irrigate. So if I can get rid of this, we can do some more native plants in here. It’s a good opportunity for us to talk about the native plants we have around here because [they would be] right in front of the visitors center.”
Some of the native grasses that make up the seed mix in bombs are prairie Junegrass, fringed sagebrush and Indiangrass.
Evans sees beekeeping in the future for Rifle Gap State Park, and pollinator-attracting wildflowers are a good step toward that. He also has plans to build more honeybee habitats and to get the park back to being a place where the native birds, bees and plants want to spend more time.
“That’s maybe our five-year plan for that project,” he said.
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Editor’s note: This story was produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.