Visitors of the Houston Gardens will see some new changes this year as the West Greeley Conservation District takes ownership of the botanic garden.
The Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County, which previously owned the Gardens, leased the Gardens’ operations to the West Greeley Conservation District two years ago. When the deed was transferred Friday, representatives of both sides said they thought it was a natural fit.
Rand Morgan, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said the deed transfer respected the vision of the original property owners.
“West Greeley Conservation District is a group of conservation-minded, education-minded people, and those are the kinds of things I think the Houstons originally intended for the garden,” Morgan said.
Through much of the 20th century, George Houston used the property as farmland. Houston served as the mayor of Greeley from 1909-10. With his only daughter, Phylabe, he shared the dream of turning the property into a botanic garden.
In 1968, Phylabe donated money and the property to the Community Foundation. The foundation played an administrative role as Phylabe collaborated with the Assistance League of Greeley to fill the gardens with native greenery.
Rob Waldo, board chairman of the Community Foundation, said the Assistance League laid the foundation for the gardens.
“They spent an inordinate amount of time, money and effort in initially establishing the gardens to educate the public about the impact of water on plant life in Colorado and its various ecological zones,” he said in a news release. “Because of their efforts, the West Greeley Conservation District can walk in and update the Gardens, but not have to start from scratch.”
Featuring four of Colorado’s five ecosystems, the Houston Gardens include more than four acres of scenery that provide visitors a firsthand learning experience. Natalie Macsalka, district manager of the West Greeley Conservation District, said those ecosystems need some restoration.
Aside from restoration, Macsalka said the gardens also will get a half-acre Audubon habitat garden June 3.
Macsalka said she has a loving connection to the gardens.
“I’m a biologist, and I’ve worked in the field most of my career before this,” she said. “The reason I fell in love with it, even though we’re in the middle of Greeley, it’s like a nature retreat in the middle of it all.”