The Garden Club of Durango celebrated its 80th anniversary Monday by funding 400 seedlings in the 416 Fire burn scar through the U.S. Forest Service Plant-a-Tree program.
The garden club, established March 9, 1940, makes an annual donation to support gardening and celebrate Arbor Day, April 17. The club gathered $800 in grant and club funding to support the Forest Service program, which plants trees in national forests. This year, members used the anniversary as an opportunity to benefit the community and heal a landscape.
“That’s what we’re all about,” said Marsha Schuetz, club president. “We’re gardeners and we want to beautify.”
The garden club was founded in part to boost the community’s spirit during the Great Depression by beautifying Durango. During World War II, members also urged the community to create Victory Gardens to help with the food shortage.
It’s not the first time they’ve set out to heal a landscape blackened by fire. After the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002, members planted wildflowers above Vallecito Lake north of Durango.
Each year, the gardeners hold a plant sale in May, pulling well-rooted perennials from their own gardens to sell to the community.
The sale funds the club’s annual $400 contribution to plant a tree or shrub for Arbor Day. This year, the club wanted to do something bigger.
The members added another $400 to their yearly donation through a Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs grant. With the larger donation fund, the group could help hundreds of new seedlings find their way into soil healing after a fire.
“The 416 Fire is on everybody’s mind,” Schuetz said. “We’re members of this community, and we just thought that would be a wonderful place to put our money.”
The Plant-a-Tree program, established in 1983, pools donations for specific Forest Service projects. The San Juan National Forest program focuses its efforts on areas affected by large-scale fires, like the 416 Fire.
Community members can also donate $2 per seedling to honor someone they know and take a step toward improving the environment at the same time.
“Since I saw this Plant-a-Tree program in The Durango Herald, I thought, ‘Wow, that would be the perfect thing to do with this grant money,’” Schuetz said.
The Garden Club of Durango members have done other large projects, such as donating a Blue Star Memorial honoring veterans and their families. They also support local gardening efforts and manage the Santa Rita Rose Garden at Santa Rita Park on the Animas River.
To celebrate the club’s 80th anniversary, members will also hold a member-only event honoring its founder, Ella Birkhimer, a Durango resident in the early 1900s.
Birkhimer was actively involved with many local and national organizations. She worked with the state health department to introduce free immunizations, volunteered with the Red Cross and worked closely with the U.S. Department of Interior on Native American affairs, according to the club’s biography.
“She was something else. She was a force,” Schuetz said.