By: Caleb Weaver, BRN Youth Education Program Manager
Now that the bountiful monsoon rains are behind us, one of my favorite seasons has arrived. During fall in the arid borderlands, I visit rainwater harvesting and restoration projects completed over the past year. From testing the sturdiness of erosion control structures, to witnessing the growth of plants in rain gardens, to gauging how full a cistern is, this season offers an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be inspired.
In June of this year, the outdoor patio at the Douglas Public Library was devoid of life, reminiscent of a prison with tall concrete walls and cage-like fence. The main feature was an industrial generator, serving as the backup power for the library and an eyesore to passersby. This patio was a space that felt neither inviting nor comforting, heating up beyond the point of comfort during the summer months. However, with a raised bed running along the northern edge of the patio, remnants of an ancient irrigation system, and fencing that could double as a trellis, the patio had the potential to be a verdant space alluring to humans and nonhumans alike.
In July, the potential of this space was realized. The Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) Douglas team swooped in for an arid lands library extreme patio makeover. With support from the New York Community Trust and the Douglas Public Library, students from Douglas High School replaced the broken irrigation system, removed weeds (saving a native velvet ash tree), installed a 360-square-foot trellis, planted 20 plants, and applied mulch. Tombstone rose and three varieties of table grapes were trained up the fence and trellis, with the plan of training the vines along overhead wires to one day shade the entire patio. A heritage pomegranate will provide nourishment for the body as library patrons feed their minds and souls. And native plants from our own Borderlands Nursery & Seed - Gregg’s Mistflower, Apache Plume, Arizona Milkweed, Lemmon’s Sage, and Yarrow - were introduced to provide critical urban habitat for native pollinators.
With the groundwork planted and mulched for a new public garden, the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona further supported the transformation of the outdoor space with new patio seating and shade sails. Three sets of patio tables and chairs now offer a place of rest along with shade sails providing cool respite in the heat of the day. The community has come together to support future generations of Douglas residents and youth alike.
The Douglas Library is the only public gathering place for youth not involved with after-school clubs or sports. Douglas does not have a Boys and Girls Club or youth center, and there are limited activities for young residents. The inspiration for this project came directly from the Douglas Public Library, which wanted to engage youth with designing and installing a homework and hangout space designed by, and for the youth of the community.
So next time you’re in Douglas visiting the historic Gadsden Hotel - or one of the many other historic and natural attractions - stop by the library patio to engage your senses and enjoy the pollinators. If you’re lucky, you may get to taste ripe grapes or pomegranates.
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