Member Spotlight: Laurel Starr

| Advocacy, Colorado Native Plants
Laurel Starr (right) with Garima Fox (left) of Rocky Mountain Botanical Gardens

Laurel brings her energy and passion to the Wild Ones Front Range Chapter as a volunteer on our Programming Committee. She prefers contributing in a variety of ways, including moderating virtual webinars, organizing garden tours, and leading field trips. When asked about her experience volunteering with the Programming Committee, Laurel said, “I was initially worried that I lacked the skill set. (But) I enjoy working with others to help bring educational opportunities via Zoom talks and garden tours to Wild Ones Front Range members. I (have) met wonderful people, made new friends and encourage others to take the plunge and volunteer.”

Laurel has also advocated for the creation of Golden, Colorado’s first pesticide-free park and leading volunteers in organic weed maintenance in the park’s native grass turf. We asked Laurel how her pilot organic park project came into existence so that her work could serve as a model for WOFR members who want to influence their city to landscape with more CO native plants. Here is Laurel’s story:

I had been looking for a way to “move the needle” with regard to reducing pesticide use and increasing biodiversity for years. An opportunity arose in 2019 when our city council invited public comment on their drafted Strategic Action Plan. I sent in my thoughts on reducing pesticide use and planting more native plants to enrich biodiversity. To my surprise, I received an immediate response from my city councilperson for whom reducing pesticide use was a personal issue because of a childhood experience of Acute Pesticide Exposure that had landed her in the hospital. She encouraged me to build public support, and asked me to find examples of communities which had had success managing parks without pesticides.

I built a case with resources from Beyond Pesticides (BP), a national nonprofit, and the citizen group Non Toxic Communities, and pointed to Boulder, which has had pesticide-free parks since the 1990’s. BP has resources to train city park personnel in organic management, and they partner with Natural Grocers, who have raised over 250K to help communities transition to organic parks. This councilperson and I had a meeting with the head of Golden’s Parks department. He was receptive to the idea but didn’t have the staff for the manual weeding that would be necessary to manage turf organically. Parks agreed to a plan for DeLong Park which would make the turf area amenable to a transition to organic management in the future, if so desired.

I also presented arguments for organic park management at Parks Advisory Board meetings. At the critical moment when city council was going to vote on contract bids for DeLong Park, an influential person in my community wrote to City Council and the mayor demanding that the vote be postponed until the option of making the park pesticide free had been fully explored. Her letter brought the subject to the attention of the entire council, and they all thought it was a good idea! Next thing we knew the head of our Parks department was also onboard with creating a pesticide free park! DeLong opened in June 2022. It is just under one acre in size. It has a turf area, a playground and a natural area which was seeded with CO native grasses. Once the weeds are better under control, we hope to introduce more native forbs.

Understanding Park’s staffing issues, I volunteered to create a group who would manually weed to take the place of using pesticide to manage weeds. This is how Weed Busters began. To get the word out about our existence, I created a Facebook page and NextDoor group but didn’t reach many interested people. The city helped by advertising Weed Busters on their social media platforms. We also got a list of Golden members of the People and Pollinators Action Network (PPAN). PPAN also broadcasted my invitation to join and put a link on their website to “volunteer in Golden!” One of our members also advertised Weed Busters in the League of Women Voters newsletter. We met weekly throughout the growing season last summer and are currently working on park signage that will state that the park is pesticide free and invite people to get involved with the Weed Busters. If any WOFR members are interested in joining, please send us an email to get on our mailing list and be notified of social events and park weeding dates starting next Spring. If we can build a substantial group of volunteers, we hope that Golden’s Parks Department will transition additional neighborhood parks to organic management.

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 event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!