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Volunteers use seed bombs to plant native wildflowers at Rifle Gap State Park

A volunteer shows his completed seed bomb before putting it in the pile.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
A volunteer shows his completed seed bomb before putting it in the pile.

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.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers Program Director Melissa Daniels keeps an eye on volunteers with the Grand Hogback in the background.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
The Grand Hogback provides the backdrop as Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers Program Director Melissa Daniels keeps an eye on volunteers.

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.

A plate of freshly formed seed bombs. A child works on creating more.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Volunteers of all ages experiment with what techniques make the best seed bombs.

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.

CPW Park Resource Technician Mike Evans stands in front of the Rifle Gap visitors center.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Colorado Parks and Wildlife resource technician Mike Evans supervises volunteers as they make their seed bombs.

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.

One person in a maroon sweatshirt and the other in a light green shirt put their completed seed bombs into a cardboard box to scatter later.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Volunteers put their completed seed bombs in a box. The seed bombs will be scattered later.

“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.”

Volunteers with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers get all the supplies they need to make a seed bomb from a folding table on a grassy lawn.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Local members of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers get all the supplies they need to make seed bombs.

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.

A canvas bag holds colorful seed mix
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
This seed mix was created specifically for the ecosystem and vegetation at Rifle Gap State Park.

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.

A man in a blue hoody, brown pants, and a sunhat throws a seed bomb in the grass at Rifle Gap State Park.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
A volunteer tosses a seed bomb in some grass below the Rifle Gap visitors center.

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.

Listen to the story above.

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.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering local news and City of Aspen-based issues. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.