Pulling together: College students help Jeffco Open Space eradicate weeds

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By Ramsey Scott

When most people think of spring break and weed, this probably isn’t what they have in mind.


A group of about 140 students, almost all from Michigan State University, were at South Valley Park helping Jeffco Open Space to eradicate pervasive noxious weeds.

The students were here instead of the beach as part of Students Today, Leaders Forever, an alternative spring break for college students that sends them across the country doing good deed after good deed.

“It’s been an adventure,” said Jon Burgess, a junior from Michigan State. “Even though it’s been a lot of hard work, it’s been really fun.”

The students had been working their way across the country in four buses during the past week, each headed out on its own philanthropic adventure. The groups rendezvoused at South Valley Park before starting to work their way back east.

Burgess said he and his group had already volunteered in Chicago, St. Louis, Topeka, Kan., West Point and Lincoln, Neb., before arriving in Denver. While there hasn’t been much time for sightseeing, Burgess said the trip has been rewarding in its own way.

With each stop, he said, it was amazing to see how everyone they met treated the students like family.

“I would honestly say it isn’t work,” Burgess said. “It’s been more like helping family members. Everyone has taken care of us.”

The students and Jeffco Open Space were connected through Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, which helps pair volunteers with projects ranging from trail building to picking weeds.

The students, who were cutting down seedpods from the plethora of common mullein that has taken over large sections of the park, were providing much-needed help, said Tony Auciello, a natural resource specialist with Jeffco Open Space.

While common mullein is an attractive plant for home gardens, which is how it was introduced into the state, in the wild it can destroy entire ecosystems, Auciello said.

“They crowd out the native vegetation, which reduces wild habitat,” Auciello said. “The wildlife here have evolved to eat those native plants, not things like common mullein.”

That lack of a natural check on its growth gives the plant a competitive advantage over native plants. The work the students were doing last week, the first step in a three-part control effort, will hopefully help push back the mullein, which covers large swaths of the park.

Why come all the way to Colorado to help kill weeds when you could be on a beach?

“A lot of my friends went to Panama Beach for spring break,” said Connor Kerndt, a freshman from Michigan State. While a week on the beach away from school sounded fun, Kerndt said he made the right choice getting on the bus to volunteer.

“This is way more rewarding,” Kerndt said. “You’re working and helping people. But you’re having fun.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.