“RidgeGate Up Close” is our series of interviews with people who make RidgeGate a more vibrant place. Read the unexpected stories of residents, workers and local leaders who live and work here. Know someone who has a unique perspective or life in RidgeGate? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A big thank you to the RidgeGate-based small business, Sarah Neumann Photography for conducting and photographing our RidgeGate Up Close interviews!
This month: Beth Hanson, park interpreter and volunteer coordinator for South Suburban Parks and Recreation. Beth has been coordinating the RidgeGate guided nature hike program, a flagship component of our annual free community event schedule for over five years. We sat down with Beth to find out more about why she loves her work in nature interpretation and education, and her perspective on what makes the RidgeGate bluffs trail system so special.
#1. As a “Park Interpreter” for South Platte Park, and a guide for RidgeGate’s free nature hikes, what is your primary objective?
Beth: “As a ‘park interpreter,’ I strive to make connections for people. I want to help connect them to the wildlife and ecosystem that surrounds us. I provide another way of looking at what is out your back door.”
#2. Roughly 1,000 acres of preserved natural habitat, including 20 miles of trails, surround and are integrated into the RidgeGate neighborhood. How does the residential component of this community impact the native habitat?
Beth: “We talk about ‘edges’ being significant in natural spaces. There is a really interesting effect when you’re on the edge of a residential community where you will see different bird species that are attracted by bird feeders in the residences. We start to notice homes that are created by the little microclimates that human-built structures create. The edges can be a really interesting place to observe wildlife.”
#3. What are some of the highlights one can expect to see on your guided hikes?
Beth: “At the top of the bluffs, there is a place that I take people to that think of as magical. It reminds me of Stonehenge because a group of large stones etched with plant or wildlife have been placed in a circle. In the center of the circle is a compass rosette with various peaks identified, so you can follow the line of the arrow and locate Mt. Evans, Pike’s Peak and others. People also love seeing the raptors because of their size and their rarity. Sometimes we see red-tailed hawks. They’re often perched on a telephone pole looking for rabbits, rodents or snakes to eat. It’s quite a spectacle when they catch one.”
Editor’s note: The sculpture Beth refers to is a part of RidgeGate’s Community Art program. The piece is entitled “High Point Council Circle,” by artist Andy Dufford, and was installed in 2007. Located at the top of the bluffs, overlooking a view of the Front Range, downtown Denver and the eastern Colorado plains, this sandstone sculpture features a medallion indicating the name and elevation of mountain ranges to the west and a pictorial of the life cycle of an acorn inscribed in a circular sandstone ring formation, which also functions as a sitting observation point.
#4. What sorts of native plant species can one expect to see on your hike?
Beth: “We cover a nice range for a very short hike, because we do have elevation increase. We start down low along the Willow Creek Trail with some native grasses and some milkweed and then as we wind our way up we’ll see three leaf sumac, mountain mahogany, gamble oak, yucca and prickly pear…and there are wildflowers, actually a fairly good variety of wildflowers for a local, urban setting. It can be a nice little show.”
#5. Each hike you lead has a theme to it. Can you give us a sense for the types of themes?
Beth: “I think one of the favorites is the summer solstice hike, which recognizes the longest day of the year. We will spend some time talking about the different traditions celebrating this day around the world. We do hikes that focus on birding in the morning as compared with birding in the evening. We sometimes do a hike about night vision. Our vision is very different from the wildlife’s vision, so we play some fun games that emphasize those differences. We have hikes where we focus on insects and spiders, or living alongside coyotes…”
#6. Many people probably want to know how they should interact with a coyote if they come across one on the trail.
Beth: “I think there’s a misperception that coyotes are like wolves, which they’re not, but they’re not like pets either. Do not feed them and do not speak to them gently. Keep your pets leashed, make lots of noise…be obnoxious. It’s better for the coyotes to fear us a little. It keeps everyone safe…us and them.”
#7. What kinds of feedback to you get from those who attend RidgeGate’s free guided hikes?
Beth: “People from outside the state are always commenting on how fortunate we are to have so many trails like these within walking distance. Yes, we pay taxes to support their maintenance, but outsiders always assure us that we have it made with free access to these trails. We have a really good thing going on in Colorado, and RidgeGate helps support that. RidgeGate is great about integrating the whole person and I think that’s appealing to people.”
#8. How does RidgeGate, as you say, “integrate the whole person?”
Beth: “So, one of the topics on our hikes that has come up multiple times is how the RidgeGate community supports people in their physical health and their mental health. From free yoga and free concerts in the park to free nature hikes, the educational classes and lectures that are held at the Douglas County Library [Lone Tree Branch in RidgeGate] or the Lone Tree Hub up the street… Lone Tree, and RidgeGate specifically, offer a lot to people who are looking to expand their lives.”
#9. Let’s switch gears now…do I detect a Midwest accent when you’re speaking?
Beth: “Haha, yes, I’m from North Dakota. I came to Colorado to attend CSU and I went for a horticulture degree and landscape design…and then it was just too hard to leave. You get ‘bit by the bug’ and, like so many who come to Colorado to vacation, I ended up staying.”
#10. I’m curious what Beth Hanson likes to do when she has a day off?
Beth: “I’m a nerd about plants. I ripped out most of my bluegrass sod and integrated xeric plants and now my backyard is pretty much all native plants. On my own time, I teach native plant classes trying to encourage people to integrate native plants into their landscaping. It’s a small way every person can change the planet. I think many people feel impotent politically or economically, but by incorporating natives into our landscapes, we can make a difference on a small scale that can spread to a big scale if we include our friends and neighbors.”