Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Bear Park is college’s learning lab for food sustainability |

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Bear Park is college’s learning lab for food sustainability

CMC Bear Park Steering Committee
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Eight years ago, a group of students, faculty and staff at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs sought to design a permaculture garden on campus. They identified what was to be called Bear Park, an ideal, south-facing location below the newly constructed academic building.

This plot served various uses over the years, leaving the soil compacted and lacking in organic matter. Permaculture begins with and revolves around healthy soil. The initial work was to sheet-mulch much of the 2/3-acre site with corrugated cardboard, compost and green manure comprising of buckwheat and clover.

After establishing more organic matter, the soil soon began retaining water and teeming with life. Students in Sustainability Studies 350 and 351, which are permaculture design certification courses, created planting beds, tree groves, composting bins and accessible walkways. Their collaborative vision emphasized the need to have a place to practice permaculture and offer a space for the community to contribute to the growth at Bear Park.

Permaculture, in contrast to industrial agriculture or monocropping, is the deliberate practice of designing low-input, low-waste food systems that center largely around perennial plants. A large portion of Bear Park was developed as a food forest, including plant guilds that provide symbiotic plantings. These give shade, attract pollinators and provide nitrogen fixation and food production.

Permaculture ethics are based on caring for people, the planet and fair distribution of resources. The design and vision of Bear Park center on these ethics, as well as the 12 principles of permaculture design, which include using and valuing renewables and incorporating creative responses to change.

Since its inception, Bear Park has seen many improvements thanks to CMC and donor support. Students in the bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies program and Professor Tina Evans have also played a major role in its growth through the years.

Today, wildlife fencing lines the perimeter of the site. The pergola compost bin reduces waste going to the landfill. Growing beds use some repurposed materials and contain various annual, perennial, leguminous and pollinator-attracting plant varieties. The most recent feature, a 42-foot-diameter geodesic grow dome, features a climate battery for year-round production and fish tanks for thermal mass and aquaculture integration.

The outdoor growing areas are in full bloom, with currants, gooseberries, comfrey, strawberries and many annual vegetables. As the grow dome climate battery heats in the winter and cools in the summer, we were thrilled with the strong spinach, chard, beet and greens harvest in the spring. Over this summer, the dome saw an abundant tomato, cucumber and pepper harvest. There are even a few pineapples and a fig tree in there.

As plans for Bear Park grow, selling produce to various outlets, including the public, are in the works, as well as creating future marketing, community involvement and distribution avenues. We’ll keep you posted as ideas firm up.

To date, several community groups have engaged with Bear Park at various levels for tours and workdays. The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, LiftUp of Routt County and the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition are a few. The two CMC permaculture design certificate courses, which are open to the public, are based on this site, and several other courses in art, literature, anthropology and culinary arts engage with the site as well.

Staff are on site most days of the week, and groups can contact Quincee Cotton, CMC Steamboat community and event coordinator, for event information at 970-870-4431 or

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