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Denver Botanic Gardens works through snow, elk fights, and COVID-19 ahead of fall season
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Credit: Scott Dressel-Martin, Denve

Larry Vickerman has been with the Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms for a little more than 15 years. He currently serves as the farm's director. If you ask him what kind of animals he’s seen wander onto the property in his decade and a half there, you’d think he was reading from a copy of National Geographic: deer, bobcats, coyotes, eagles, owls, and the occasional mountain lion. When the cherries are ripe, the staff at the farm will see some bears.

On Wednesday morning, after a storm dropped a few inches of snow on the gardens, Vickerman saw something he hadn’t seen before: two bull elk sparring in the fields of Chatfield Farms.

“That was hilarious,” Vickerman said. “This is a big wildlife corridor for a lot of things moving between the mountains and the plains. And I think the snow storm just brought the elk out of the mountains. We could see where they actually walked through the pumpkin field and across the corner of the corn maze.”

But while the snow storm provided a chance for a fascinating elk spectacle, it also jeopardized some of the crops at the farms. About a third of the pumpkins were damaged, Vickerman said. It was the earliest they’ve ever gotten snow since Vickerman has been with Chatfield Farms.

Chatfield Farms (Credit: Scott Dressel-Martin)

“It kind of smashed everything flat,” he said about the snow. “We’re still waiting to assess freeze damage, but I think it could’ve been a lot worse.”

Luckily, Vickerman and his team were able to harvest the summer crops before the snow came in. By next week, he predicts, people at the farm won’t even be able to tell it snowed.

Even more challenging than winter weather has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Vickerman says the farm was shut down from late March to early June, and that they had to cancel some events like the Lavender Festival. Now, the botanic gardens are allowing 100 people in per hour.

“We’ve had to socially distance as much as humanly possible, especially the farm crew and the [horticulture] crew, and I’ve had rotating staff through some of the office buildings,” Vickerman said. “We’ve managed to do pretty well. And the gardens, before this snow, looked awesome!”

Starting September 18, the farm’s corn maze will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Pumpkins will go on sale soon as well.

“It’s a great place to take the family in the fall if you want to get outside,” Vickerman said, “and gosh knows everyone does because of covid.”

And if the bull elk find their way into the corn maze?

“We’ll give them a map,” Vickerman said.

For more information on Denver Botanic Gardens' phased reopening, click here.

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