Warner College helps shape new community project

field and houses
Bennett Nature Area is across the street from Bennett Elementary School

Joan Hayes sent out a call. Warner College of Natural Resources was one of many that answered.

Hayes, a Fort Collins resident and Bennett Elementary School volunteer, had a vision to transform a grassy field across from the school into a new pollinator garden for the children to enjoy and learn about nature. Her challenge: achieving her vision with a limited budget and resources. Her call for help went out to the community, including a school just kitty-corner to her own: Colorado State University.

“We received so much support,” Hayes said. “Everyone we asked something of said yes.”

CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources and Environmental Learning Center have become instrumental in Hayes’ new project. Students and staff are physically and figuratively nurturing the garden’s growth now and into the future. This collective CSU and Fort Collins community support has helped Hayes expanded her initial pollinator garden into The Bennett Nature Area.

students shovel dirt
Warner College students help plant one of 20 trees.

Making the vision tangible

The Bennett Nature Area will provide habitat for animals, birds and insects, along with environmental education opportunities for teachers and students. Hayes partnered with Bennett Elementary School and Bennett Bungalows HOA to propose the project and received initial funding from the city of Fort Collins’ “Nature in the City Program.” She said they all believed this space had the possibility and proximity to bring nature into students’ lives.

“I know many children aren’t able to take advantage of the wonderful natural resources we have in our area or Colorado,” said Hayes, also a retired teacher. “We want these students to have a field-trip like experience available right across the street.”

This also offers CSU students a reciprocal opportunity across the street from their own school. Students associated with Warner College, along with community members and children, have been helping Hayes transform the Bennett Nature Area.

Beginning last fall, discounted and donated plants from nurseries around the city appeared. Bennett students established the pollinator garden and still spend recess tending the plant beds. Warner College student volunteers have moved mounds of dirt and mulch to install over 20 trees of at least a dozen different species; with plans to add 10 more.

Jillian Krynock, a freshman in the Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology department, is one of over two dozen student volunteers who answered Hayes’ call. She helped sow the project’s first plants and returned again this spring with a deeper commitment.

“Last fall, I worked alongside Bennett students and it was great to see them become so interested at such an early age,” Krynock said. “It’s also great to come back and see these efforts continue and our plants doing so well.”

woman with tree
Jillian Krynock, a freshman in the Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology department prepares a juniper tree for planting.

For students of all ages

Hayes takes students to the Bennett Nature Area every week, with a new vision to add more educational programming. She said college students aren’t just the brawn she needs, but also the brains to impart their growing knowledge to the younger generation. She hopes CSU students and other community volunteers from many different disciplines will take part in the project as it moves forward.

“These children are learning so much in these formative years,” said Hayes. “I’d like to find ways to complement Bennett’s curriculum and have the community help us use the space to serve all student interests.”

Hayes began a partnership with CSU’s Environmental Learning Center to jumpstart this process. The Center’s professional and student staff are currently developing lessons for Bennett students and trainings for their teachers. ELC Director Nicole Stafford said that CSU working in tandem with Bennett Elementary is the best way to maximize potential for the school’s new natural world.

“While we’ll continue to provide several free programs for Bennett Elementary school classrooms, I think it would be great if we could help teachers integrate use of the area into their weekly, if not daily, schedules,” Stafford said.

Hayes hopes something similar will happen with students from both schools. She said she would like to see regular teaching, learning and nurturing from The Bennett Nature Area extend outside the school’s grounds.

“If students can see what’s possible at their school, then they’ll see what they can do in their own backyards and communities,” she said.