This spring marks the 15th anniversary of the Community Pride Highway Cleanup on Saturday. Organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council, and presented by Vail Resorts EpicPromise, the event will gather more than 100 teams with over 950 volunteers in total. These teams will clean up trash and debris that has accumulated along Eagle County’s interstate and highways over the past year.

This is the largest annual volunteer event in Eagle County; it’s a testament to the community’s commitment to maintaining the beauty and health of our valley and watershed. It’s especially important to us at the Watershed Council because it prevents trash from migrating into and harming our rivers and streams. And the best part is that we’re not alone in our efforts.

Throughout the United States, over 20,000 communities will come together to improve their local environment as part of the Great American Cleanup. This national program, organized by Keep America Beautiful, engages over 2 million volunteers each spring. Through this great effort, volunteers will be cleaning up garbage, planting trees, repairing trails, improving open spaces and rebuilding public parks in need of repair.

With the annual Highway Cleanup marking the transition to the summer season, many of us are excited to get back to work in our gardens and yards. April is National Gardening Month, and as we dig into gardening season, we should carry with us the same stewardship ethic that brings us together for the Highway Cleanup.

Fragile, Beautiful Place

We live in a fragile, beautiful place and the way in which we live, work and play in this valley has long-lasting impacts on the local ecosystem and everything downstream from us. Water has always been a hot topic in the West, and water conservation is now more important than ever.

According to the Colorado State University Extension Program, within Colorado’s built environment, outdoor water use (primarily used to water lawns and ornamental gardens) accounts for nearly 55 percent of residential use, which adds up to nearly 40 percent of all water use in urban areas.

Key Landscaping Practices

Our landscaping practices, whether good or bad, impact rivers, wildlife and people downstream. Living in a headwaters community, especially in the Upper Colorado River basin, we are responsible for protecting our local ecosystems and modeling best practices for communities downstream. Here are three key practices to keep in mind this gardening season:

• Design your landscapes and irrigation systems to use less water. Choose drought-tolerant plants that are adapted to our semi-arid climate. Use plants that require more water only when needed to fulfill functions in the landscape. Irrigate plants in your landscape only when needed and adjust your irrigation system on a regular basis to follow changes in weather, as temperature and precipitation greatly affect how frequently plants need water.

• Garden for wildlife. Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” notes that throughout the lower 48 states, only 3-5 percent of land consists of undisturbed habitat for plants and animals. Nearly 50 percent of the continental United States is devoted to agriculture, and the other half has been converted to urban and suburban sprawl containing nearly 40 million acres of lawns. Because of these dramatic changes in our landscape, we are losing species at an alarming rate. We have the opportunity to make a real difference in restoring and protecting native ecosystems by thoughtfully choosing what we plant in our gardens and landscapes.

• Consider using native plants in your garden. The scenic qualities of Eagle County are one reason many of us choose to live here. The native flora throughout the Rocky Mountains have evolved to thrive in the extreme conditions of altitude, temperature and precipitation of this region. When planted in appropriate locations, natives have a positive effect on water quality and quantity by requiring little to no supplemental water, fertilization or pesticides.

Protecting County’s Biodiversity

The Highway Cleanup has significantly reduced pollution in our environment thanks to the diligent effort of hundreds of participants each year. Let’s continue to build on this stewardship in our own gardens to reduce our impact on the environment and protect the biodiversity that contributes to our high quality of life in Eagle County.

Doug Serrill is the Project & Events Coordinator for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit

This article ran in the Vail Daily on April 24, 2015.