One main walkway on our campus stretches beautifully from Cutler to Shove, surrounded by quaint street lamps and fields of grass. While it’s a lovely sight, I think that we should let the grass die and replace it with drought-resistant desert plants, as they would grow more naturally in this region’s climate. The practice of sustainable landscaping is called xeriscaping, and it should be part of an intelligent plan for our school’s future.

Illustration by Kelsey Skordal
Illustration by Kelsey Skordal

Derived from the words “landscape” and “xeros,” the latter of which is a Greek word for “dry,” xeriscaping is quickly becoming popular in the Front Range’s dry climate. In fact, Denver’s water utility, Denver Water, is a pioneer of the technique. They even have a guide on their website for how to convert bluegrass turf, like that on our campus, into a “low water usage landscape.”

While Colorado College already uses the artfully named “recycled water” to nourish our campus’s flora, xeriscaping would further reduce our water and energy consumption and contribute to campus sustainability. We express this ideal in our core value statements, our architecture, and our individual lifestyles. We should express it in our landscaping practices as well.

Some fields on campus are used for sports. These include Armstrong quad, parts of Yampa quad, and of Olson field. Sports are an important part of our on-campus culture, and I don’t think we should change these areas. But other parts of campus, like the Mathias quad complex, the field between Palmer and Barnes, and the median strips in Cascade, are ripe for sweeping institutional landscaping reform.

When not sporting about, people generally lie around in these other places and read books, chat, or sunbathe. Don’t worry – we will still be able to do that! Like many CC students, I have lain around listlessly in the desert sun many a time, and enjoyed the tranquility all the more. Xeriscaping CC’s property does not have to change our campus lifestyle.

While diehard Steinbeck fans may be disappointed, the rest of us should rest assured that a campus covered in plants of the dry prairie would not turn into the “downtown dustbowl” of Colorado Springs. On the contrary, properly xeriscaped land roots plants deeper to the soil than traditional bluegrass fields, according to Denver Water.

“Prairie-fying” campus would not only be environmentally responsible, but also cheaper for the college. This is not a program to kill jobs on campus. We are going to need groundskeepers to convert our campus over to drought-resistant flora, and “maintaining the landscape” is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping listed on Denver Water’s website.

However, pumping grey water around and clearing underground pipes for winter, paying to lay down transplanted bluegrass on a yearly basis, and painting the grass green in times of severe drought are all expenses that we could afford to avoid.

I think that we plant and care for the grass on campus because we want to be something we aren’t. We have grass all over our campus because we want to look like a classic “East Coast” liberal arts school. But all the green plants in the world couldn’t make us an Ivy. The block plan, our relative lack of core requirements, and our quirky, alternative culture make certain of that.

A xeriscaped campus would heighten our community’s sense of place at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I came to this school because it’s in the West, and I didn’t want to be in the East any more. The stunning relief of Pikes Peak dominates our college campus and the rest of Colorado Springs. In comparison, our grassy, Dartmouth-esque campus seems divorced from its surroundings.

We could change all of that though. Denver Water’s website has a 130-page guide to xeriscaping bluegrass turf fields. In the midst of this Year of Planning, xeriscaping is a perfect match for CC’s future.

David Cully

Commentary and Debate Editor

1 Comment

  1. To be perfectly honest, I can’t image the scrub that naturally grows in the open spaces around Colorado Springs to ever look nice and professional on our campus, surrounded by green grass. I am just not convinced that it is so wasteful to use our greywater and have a gorgeous, totally barefoot friendly, green campus that we should abolish the grass in a few fairly small areas.

    More importantly, have you guys obtained any cost estimates for removing the dead grass and relandscaping? I’m sure it is not cheap. I would want to know that the new xeriscaped areas would save us enough money (from watering/mowing costs? how significant is that amount?) to make it worth it. We should absolutely not waste money just for the sake being more hip and using less of our WASTEwater.

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