By Sue Gray
Sopris Sun Correspondent
In recent years, Carbondale has developed a reputation for being an environmentally friendly place, but 30 years ago the Town lacked any sort of environmental regulations. Taking matters into their own hands, a group of citizens calling themselves “Down Valley Trash” started working on a recycling program. The group, which included Steve Standiford and Jeff Dickinson, eventually formed an informal “environmental board” to deal with broader issues.
In 1995, the environmental board began expressing concerns about the use of herbicides to control weeds in town parks and playing fields. Pesticides (bug killers) and herbicides (weed killers) were linked to cancer in lab animals, but it was the possible effects on children whose systems are more sensitive to toxins, that was most alarming. As children play on the grass in parks, at school and at home, the chemicals stick to their clothes and skin, and could lead to health problems later on.
With John “Doc” Philip (aka Doc Dandelion) in the lead, several petitions were circulated asking the Town of Carbondale (T.O.C.) to suspend the use of herbicides on its parks and playgrounds. When the Board of Trustees (B.O.T.) received the petitions with over 100 signatures, they asked for some research into alternate methods of weed control. The environmental board agreed to take on the task.
Environmental awareness continued growing in the Carbondale community and among its Town representatives. The T.O.C. Comprehensive Plan Update of 1997 included in its Core Values: the protection of wetlands, providing trails for alternate transportation, and promoting recycling.
On January 27, 1998 the B.O.T. passed a resolution creating an official Environmental Board. Its purpose was to “provide analysis and recommendation to the Town Board of Trustees regarding environmental issues” including pollution, water and air quality, use of pesticides and herbicides, transportation, and waste disposal.
As a symbol of the town’s commitment to going green, Mayor Randy Vanderhurst declared the dandelion the official Town Flower. That Spring, the “E-board” held the first Dandelion Day in Sopris Park, to celebrate a new attitude toward weed control and the environment in general. People in attendance were encouraged to help rid the park of dandelions by digging them out, while Doc Philip promoted the health benefits of the plant. Philip’s research led him to the conclusion that the dandelion, which was grown as a vegetable by Europeans and early Americans, is actually the most nutritious plant on earth. Even better than kale!
In 2001, after extensive research and deliberation, the E-board gave the Parks and Recreation Department a proposal to control weeds organically. The plan included improving the health of the soil, reseeding with less vulnerable grass species, practicing proper irrigation and mowing, and using natural methods such as manual elimination, vinegar sprays and bio-controls.
While the P&R Department began adopting these organic lawn-care methods and phasing out herbicides, the Environmental Board continued working to meet the T.O.C.’s ecological goals. Committees were formed to address specific areas. The Waste Diversion committee deals with recycling, composting, and waste hauler issues; Conservation Biology is concerned with decreasing land, air, and water pollution; the Energy group looks into ways to reduce the town’s energy use and convert to renewable sources; the Outreach and Education committee teaches the public about environmental issues and sponsors Dandelion Day, the annual sustainability festival now in its sixteenth year.
In addition to changing the Town’s approach to weed control, the E-board’s past accomplishments include starting the town’s Household Hazardous Waste collection day, contributing to the ordinances on light pollution and wood-burning stoves, helping to draft the town’s Energy Code and getting the City Market plastic bag ban on the ballot.
According to the T.O.C.’s mandate on advisory boards, the Environmental Board can have up to twelve members, with no less than seven full members and two alternates, each serving a two-year term. Three members may live outside of town. The board also includes liaison positions from the B.O.T. and the Town, which are being filled by Allyn Harvey and Larry Ballenger.
Currently the E-board is looking to replenish their ranks with people who care about Carbondale and are passionate about preserving the planet. Anyone interested in joining is encouraged to contact the Town of Carbondale for an application. The board meets on the third Monday of every month at Town Hall and is open to public attendance. If you want to present an idea or concern, you can get on the agenda by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the role of the Environmental Board has grown, so has their outreach to the community. Last year the board invested in a monthly Sustainability Page in the Sopris Sun, which they renewed again this year. Dandelion Day no longer includes digging weeds out of Sopris Park, but the festival has become even more focused on teaching environmental awareness and sustainability. In addition to the usual booths selling crafts, clothing, and food, environmental and social non-profits will offer information on living in harmony with nature and each other. Educational workshops include topics on gardening, natural health care, and worm farming. This year’s festival is scheduled for May 10 and more information can be found at www.dandelionday.org
While Dandelion Day may be the most visible aspect of the Town of Carbondale’s commitment to sustainability, it’s what you don’t see that matters most. Thanks to the Environmental Board, what you don’t see is our town parks and playgrounds being sprayed with toxic chemicals.
The next E-board meeting is April 21
Earth Day is April 22
Dandelion Day is May 10
This story is underwritten by the Carbondale Environmental Board.