A Bold Project to Rewild Denver and Employ Refugees

| Turf Conversion

By Avi Stopper

In early 2022, Wild Ones Front Range Chapter board member Deb Lebow Aal and I launched Oasis West Wash Park, a volunteer project to help neighbors in West Washington Park, a central Denver neighborhood, replace unused grass with Colorado native plants. The vision is to turn the neighborhood into a gigantic botanic garden bursting with life.

Since then, we’ve completed 40 projects and recruited 75 volunteers. This summer, to keep up with demand, we worked with the African Community Center to assemble a paid crew of Afghan refugees who now replace Kentucky bluegrass with all manner of Colorado Front Range native plants. We’ve obsessively refined our process to make Oasis affordable and easier to maintain so that it is accessible for lots more people.

We’re moving rapidly towards expanding the project across Denver and the region. Plenty of challenges remain, however, and we could use the experience and enthusiasm of the Wild Ones community to accelerate the Coloradoscape rewilding with: 

Seeds and seedlings – Do you have native Colorado seeds, seedlings, or propagated plants that need a home?

Maintenance expertise – One of the great challenges is maintenance. Oases have to look good for more people to want in. The first handful of projects didn’t include a maintenance agreement and some went to pot (and not that pot…). We now require a 1-year maintenance agreement. We could use expertise on how to make these projects flourish as quickly as possible and look great, to make even more people feel like this is something they want to do.

Volunteers – Our next volunteer project is on January 21st from 2-4 weather permitting. We’d love to have you join us. 

Subsidize projects – We’re working on a grant from the City of Denver to subsidize projects similar to the popular e-bike rebate program. We are also asking individuals and organizations to help seed our Grow the Oasis Fund, 100% of which goes to offsetting the residents’ costs and helping them get over the final hurdle to replacing their grass. If you’re interested in supporting a project or 100 projects, please let us know. 

If you’d like to discuss any of the above, please email me: [email protected]. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop. 

I like to think of Oasis as a big science experiment as we test new ways to deal with the operational and botanic challenges. We’ve rented heavy equipment: fail. We’ve tried different plug-and-play design methodologies and settled on one we call “Islands of Plants.” We’ve open-sourced our process. We’ve planted seedlings from High Plains Environmental Center and seeds from Western Native Seed. We have a little outdoor nursery experiment underway. We now install drip systems because we found that irrigation is essential in gardens that would otherwise go untended. We’ve had surprise winners – what’s up Silene drummondii!! – and disappointing losers – sorry ​​Eriogonum arcuatum. And we’re always on the hunt for shade tolerant natives.

We thank you for your support and leadership in rewilding Denver and the region. Together we can do this.

And a note from Deb: While Avi is busy working to make this happen in our neighborhood, the City of Denver is starting to take Kentucky Blue grass out of medians, and replace it with prairie plants. This is an exciting development, which will save millions of gallons of water, and also provide much needed habitat for all manner of critters.  Read more about it here

Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming eventsubscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!