Wild Colorado: Wildflower season expected to be short and dry
June 8, 2012
Wildflower watchers should get out now if their one springtime goal is to take in the colors of the season and check on their wily, colorful neighbors.
The winter had sparse snowfall, so the flowers aren’t thriving in a high snowmelt environment. The spring has been dry, and it’s expected to continue – and probably get hotter and drier, Colorado State University Summit County Extension Service director Dan Schroder said.
“The wildflowers will undoubtedly suffer,” he said.
Right now, the lupine and Indian paintbrush are blooming along the Peaks Trail and in the Highlands in Breckenridge, Schroder said. Those locations begin to get at the higher elevation areas that don’t typically melt out until July, which usually allows wildflower watchers to continue enjoying colorful hikes.
This year, though, the higher elevation areas have mostly melted – and it’s just the start of June.
“The general consensus (among CSU officials) is that wildflowers are blooming earlier than expected, and this is tied directly to last winter’s snowpack being at 18 percent of normal in Summit County,” Schroder said. “We are observing an early bloom with an expectation of very little wildflower activity later in the summer as the landscape dries out and the lack of moisture doesn’t support wildflower populations.”
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At the same time the meadows come ablaze with color from Colorado’s native wildflowers, some fields are being overtaken by rather resilient noxious weeds, like yellow toadflax – also known as butter and eggs.
“It’s quite resilient and can do well in many circumstances,” Schroder said. “As an invasive, it will overwhelm the environment. I’ve observed it doing that in Silver Shekel, along Silver Boulevard. … It’s really prolific up there and taking over. That’s a bad thing for our wildflower populations as well, when these non-native invasives start taking over the landscape.”
The wildflower season typically kicks off summer hiking adventures for many in Summit County, with some locals so enthralled with the flowery fields they choose to hold special events outdoors amidst them. Like Bredt Roberts Butler, whose wedding was held on Boreas Pass in a field of wildflowers blooming in July.
Perhaps the love of wildflowers comes in part from winter staying well past its welcome, and making any pinpoint of color an exciting experience. Even with the mud of most years, hikers wade through it to take in the fields of color.
Visiting wildflower fields is typically a whole-body experience that engages all five senses. Everywhere, there is color, and different scents waft by throughout the walk. The wind rustles the aspen leaves, and they quietly chatter their excitement for spring. The feeling of sun warming your back and touch of foot to trail, and you can almost taste the delicious scent of the air.
The chance to enjoy those senses this year is shortened, and some flowers’ vibrancy and life may be dimmed and shortened because of the lack of moisture.
“Hopefully this drought doesn’t really do what I expect it will, but we’re looking like wildflower populations are going to be hurting this year,” Schroder said.
Some of the most popular native wildflowers are the white, lace-like mountain phlox, the summery sagebrush buttercup, the dainty marsh marigold, the robust king’s crown and the colorful wild
violets and pasque flower.
Purple shades come by way of elephant’s head, Jacob’s ladder, penstemon, blue flax, chiming bells, larkspur and columbine
Whites and yellows are also popular, with yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, the daisy, golden aster and wild lily of the valley.
Often, the delicate wildflowers aren’t much to behold until they cover larger swaths of land, which can be inhibited if invasive flowers like yellow toadflax continue to take over.
To become familiar with the flowers, Roberta Fiester’s book “Stalking the Wildflowers” might be a good reference. She considered them fellow residents, who took on personalities throughout her years visiting and vacationing at her former home in Bill’s Ranch.
“I regard them as fellow residents here on what we lightly call our property,” she wrote. “They assumed personalities for me. I tell about them in stories. It is my hope that the stories identify the flowers. I trust you will come to look on them as fellow residents, too.”
Two logging projects to remove beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees are under way on Bureau of Land Management lands in Grand County.
The 58-acre Grouse Mountain project is about 10 miles northeast of Kremmling along County Road 21 and BLM Road 2758. The 60-acre Hogback Too project is roughly five miles northwest of Granby off Highway 125 along BLM Road 2760.
Visitors to these areas are urged to use caution because of the increased heavy truck traffic and logging equipment. Both timber salvage projects are expected to continue through late fall or winter.
Logging operations are taking place with standard, ground-based logging equipment. The projects are clearing beetle-killed trees, which will increase public safety, help the forest regenerate, reduce the risk of wildfire and improve wildlife habitat.
For more information, contact the BLM Kremmling Field Office at (970) 724-3000.
– Janice Kurbjun
Summit County Open Space and Trails Department is continuing tree-removal activities on various sections of the Summit County Recreational Pathway System through the end of this week. During tree removal operations on Thursday, the recpath behind the hospital was closed and a detour was provided. On Friday, tree- removal work was conducted along the recpath through Iron Springs Open Space that will require closures and delays. An alternate route is recommended. Please slow down as you approach tree-removal activities and always heed warning signs or the directions of authorized personnel.
“The contractor is making every effort to minimize the duration of the closure while maintaining a safe work environment,” said Brad Eckert, Open Space and Trails resource specialist. “We thank the recpath users for their patience during these operations.”
Direct questions to the open space and trails department at (970) 668-4060.
– Janice Kurbjun
Jan Cutts, the district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest, is back at her desk in Silverthorne.
She took a temporary assignment, sometimes known as detail, to help fill a vacated position helping with the regional bark beetle program and acting as regional director of external affairs. Both positions had recently been vacated.
It’s not unusual for Forest Service and other federal agency employees to take such temporary opportunities to foster professional development and keep government work moving.
Peech Keller slid into Cutts’ shoes while she was away, fulfilling the leadership vacancy Cutts left when she headed to the regional office in Golden.
“My assignment is over and I’m thrilled to be back,” Cutts said.
– Janice Kurbjun