Glenwood Springs now home to the largest marijuana grow site in the Roaring Fork Valley
Six months ago, Ron Radtke wasn't very happy with the direction his planned marijuana growing operation was headed. Radtke, the sole owner of Green Essentials Medical LLC, doing business as Green Dragon Colorado, was trying to set up a grow operation on Lower River Road in Pitkin County before running into a roadblock from several of the neighbors and the Woody Creek caucus. Despite receiving assurances from several county officials that his vision of building a pair of greenhouses would work at that location, he ultimately was denied the go-ahead by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners to develop the property he was leasing there. But like the old saying goes, when one door shuts, another one usually opens. Radtke turned to Glenwood Springs, and found what he considers a perfect fit for his planned operations in the old Coors warehouse on Devereux Road next to the Colorado River. The warehouse most recently housed the manufacturing firm Fiberforge until it went out of business last year. The warehouse has the size, power capabilities and location that fits perfectly into Radtke's plans to develop a super-sized growing and retail operation. The 26,000-square-foot building has the size and expansion capabilities Radtke needs to develop his 70-plus strains of marijuana he'll use to supply his current medical patients and future recreational customers. Ultimately, his plan is to more than double the current grow space in the building. The warehouse already has enough power to satisfy all of the electrical needs for his operation. It sits within the city's only industrial zone, the only place where marijuana can be cultivated legally within the Glenwood Springs city limits. "We're feeling a lot better where we're at now than six months ago," Radtke said. "As far as our competition goes, it's game on. We're going to be the only true locally owned and locally grown outlet in the valley." The retail shop is already open for business in Glenwood Springs if customers have a medical marijuana card. Radtke said the Glenwood location should be open for recreational business today. Radtke's Green Dragon Colorado shop in Aspen is already licensed to sell recreational marijuana. "Our medical patients will always be protected and will always have a home with us," Radtke said. "We've seen other outlets, like Stash near Aspen, go completely recreational. Our medical patients are our friends and the basis of how we started. We also believe in the medicinal value of our product." What most customers will see at Green Dragon Colorado in Glenwood Springs is the retail shop located next to the warehouse. The space is divided into two shopping counters with one dedicated to medical patients and the other supplied with recreational product. The shop is spacious and well lit with plenty of product in jars lining several walls. Besides the flower itself, there also are edibles, smoking paraphernalia, clothing and vaporizing products available. Bud tender Marie Kilbourn has worked in both Glenwood Springs and Aspen for Green Dragon. Friendly and knowledgeable about the product, Kilbourn was all smiles to be working at the new facility. "It's really a great space and it'll only get better," she said. "We're going to have the best variety of product, the best shop and will give our customers the best shopping experience possible." Radtke's crew took control of the warehouse in January and has used the past four months to plan and set up lighting, monitor the moisture levels, design the specific growing areas and set up space for supplies and equipment. "It's not a race to start fast," Radtke said. "We're taking our time to do this right. We want our customers and the city of Glenwood Springs to be happy, so we're doing our best to follow all the rules and set up an operation that will provide quality products for both the medical and recreational customers." Jeff Kennedy is the general manager for Green Dragon Colorado, and he keeps a watchful eye on the warehouse as it slowly comes to life. With more than 70 strains of marijuana already growing, Kennedy said it's important to offer a variety of products. "Our goal isn't just to have a product that's 20 percent THC," Kennedy said. "We want to offer choices to our customers. Not everybody wants the strongest marijuana possible; some people like the taste, the color, the smell or just the mood they feel from different strains. There are so many other components to a plant that's beneficial or desirable to our customers other then just the THC count." The facility offers plenty of size and power to make it the largest known indoor grow area on the Western Slope, but Radtke and his crew aren't done yet. The warehouse already has 26,000 square feet of space with an additional 3,200-square-foot building that will be used as the sales center, but that's going to change as Radtke embellishes and develops more of the property. Radtke's son, Brian, came up with an idea to add another 20,000 square feet of flowering space by putting in rows of shelving about 8 feet off the ground that nearly doubles the grow area to 46,000 square feet. One room in the warehouse will be used as a 3,800-square-foot grow space using only natural light from June through October. A special composite material was installed on the roof to expand the natural light and increase growth production. There's an additional 8,000-square-foot space outside of the warehouse that Radtke plans to develop into another grow area, hopefully by the end of summer. The roof of the warehouse has a level section that Radtke is looking to turn into another 16,000 square feet of growing area. When completed, the warehouse could hold between 60,000 to 70,000 square feet of grow and storage space. One area of the warehouse has multiple pallets loaded with several tons of crushed coconut husks and another area with a dozen pallets of perlite, a naturally occurring siliceous rock that is covered with tiny cavities that trap moisture. The two products are used together as a soil to grow the plants in. "They're both clean, reusable and environmentally sound products," Kennedy said. "Keeping the operation as natural and environmentally friendly as possible has been the goal since day one." One issue that indoor marijuana growers almost always have to deal with is combating the infestation of spider mites. Instead of using a commercial pesticide, Green Dragon sprays their plants with natural rosemary and citrus oils to control the tiny arachnids. They also use food-grade products as fertilizer, meaning a person can eat or drink them. Beginning in July, all products that come out of the warehouse will be sent to an independent testing center to check for contaminants, molds, pesticides and other foreign substances. "They'll test our product like something you would buy at a grocery store," Kennedy said. The building already is equipped with 2,500 amps at 480 volts, easily enough power for Radtke's planned operation. "This is the purest uninterrupted power available," Radtke said. "We'll use maybe 350 amps out of the 2,500 available. We're set for power for a long, long time." Security is a major issue, and Radtke is making sure his investment is safe and well monitored. There are nearly 200 video-surveillance cameras being installed that will eventually be displayed on four 40-inch monitors. "We're really blessed to have this facility," Radtke said. "We're the first cannabis company that's been accepted into the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce. You'll see our ad in their summer guide when it comes out. We're vested in the overall economic health of Glenwood Springs and the responsible cultivation and consumption of cannabis. We're proud of our new facility and our shop in Aspen. The Roaring Fork Valley is a great place to do business, and it's our home, as well."