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A Walk Through Time

By Judy Kunz, Colorado Master Gardener

You don’t need to leave the Denver metro area to take a step back in time to the post-Civil War era when settlers traveled by covered wagon across the Great Plains to make their homes at the foot of the Rockies. The lure for many was the promise of up to 160 acres of government surveyed land in exchange for working the land and building a home on it. Those who had the grit and determination to farm for five years on the Eastern plains, despite inhospitable conditions such as inconsistent rainfall, heavy clay soils, persistent winds and killer hailstorms, were rewarded with a deed to the land .

Photo Credit: Gloria Huegel 

The Plains Conservation Center is located near East Hampden Avenue & E-470 and stands as a testament to the lure of life in the West for early settlers. Those hardworking pioneers with adventurous spirits wanted a piece of the American dream. Today it is a nature preserve and an educational center complete with a homestead village and a Native American tipi camp that visitors can explore. Trail maps are available for those who want to hike the area. Individuals, families and school groups are welcome. The mission of the Center is to help visitors grow in knowledge and appreciation of the prairie ecosystem and the cultural history of Colorado through a variety of educational programs.

With the intrepid spirit of those early homesteaders, Arapahoe County Master Gardeners Evelyn Alton and Gloria Huegel have taken on the adventure of duplicating the crops grown by the settlers in the mid-1860s. In conjunction with Denver Botanic Gardens horticulturists, they are planning the Heritage Garden at the Center and will also be using the same gardening methods employed by the settlers. The selection of seeds for the various vegetables, fruit and herbs was investigated and verified by the Botanic Gardens as being authentic varieties in use at the time. Additional Arapahoe County Master Gardener volunteers will assist with planting and maintaining the gardens throughout the growing season.

Among the crops visitors will see in the garden are corn, potatoes, beans, squash, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, radishes, beets, cabbage, onions, peppers, cucumbers and greens such as lettuce, collard and kale. In addition, there will be heirloom herbs and fruit such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and muskmelon and fruit trees.

Unlike many of today’s modern hybrid plants, heirloom plants are open pollinated by insects, birds and/or wind and new plants from their seeds grow true to the parent plant. Historically they were handed down from one generation to the next from the beginnings of farming. Heirloom seeds are generally thought of as being in use before World War II. Many people consider heirloom vegetables, fruit and herbs to have a superior taste.

The Plains Conservation Center welcomes visitors 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. They are closed Monday and Tuesday. Stop by and take a step back in time!

For more information about the Plains Conservation Center, see link below: 

Learn more about heirloom vegetables here:

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