Saturday was the first day Durango Nature Center was open for the season. The docent on duty emailed me after her shift to say that it had been a good day and said hummingbirds and bees were flitting in and out of the serviceberry bushes.
Her email reminded me of what it is like to spend a day in the rich abundance of the Nature Center. The last day I was there, I stayed after a program to relax on the dock and listen to the sound of leopard frogs jumping into the pond around me. The Nature Center is a magical place that we are lucky to have preserved for our community and our kids to learn from and enjoy.
Durango Nature Center ranges in elevation from 6,020 to 6,150 feet. Of the eight different ecosystems found in Colorado, the Nature Center contains four: desert shrubland, piñon-juniper, montane shrubland and riparian. Visitors can see firsthand these different types of ecosystems and the species they support.
The desert shrubland is made up of sage, rabbitbrush and other plants that are drought resistant. They provide shelter and food for rabbits, lizards and horned toads. The piñon-juniper forest is the perfect size to amaze a child. The average height of a piñon tree is 25 feet and they are amassed in groups commonly referred to as “pygmy forests.” These forests produce a lot of food, mainly piñon nuts and juniper berries. Many species such as the piñon jay depend exclusively on these forests for their food source.
Montane shrubland also provides a rich amount of food sources from a variety of plants, such as scrub oak, serviceberry, wild rose and chokecherry. This variety of plants supplies food for a large number of species, such as wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, mice, deer, raccoons, coyotes and sometimes bears. Many morning visitors are greeted by a family of wild turkeys that wander down the central trail.
Finally, the lifeblood of the Nature Center is the Florida River and the riparian ecosystem that surrounds it. More than 75 percent of all Colorado wildlife uses riparian areas for some part of their life cycle. Cottonwoods and willows line the banks and help anchor the soil in place. Frogs, crayfish and many aquatic insects can be found in the river, as well as muskrat, bank beavers, raccoons and blue herons. Many species of birds, including ospreys, eagles, owls and hawks, come to breed and catch prey.
All of this is waiting for those wishing to learn and explore. Visitors to the Nature Center can check out natural history manuals that explain what can be seen in this environment, as well as read ethno-botany signs identifying many of the plants common to the Nature Center’s elevation. Or one might walk the self-guided interpretive trail and learn even more about the flora and fauna. Kids can certainly delve deeper and earn a junior naturalist badge.
Whether searching for a place to explore nature with your family, or finding a solitary place to reflect, the Nature Center provides a way to learn about and enjoy the ecosystems of southern Colorado. We hope you will take advantage of it some Saturday between now and October. Visit www.durangonaturestudies.org/center.htm for hours and directions.