History of the Garden
The Charmaine Nymann Community Garden is located in beautiful Bear Creek Park on the west side of Colorado Springs.
It is the oldest community garden in the Pikes Peak Region, with some of the best amended soil anywhere.
Gardeners, upon renting a plot, become members of the Bear Creek Garden Association (BCGA), a Colorado non-profit corporation, which runs the garden under a land use agreement with El Paso County.
The garden was a Master Gardener-run community garden for 10 years before the BCGA assumed management responsibilities. The property was previously a county-run poor farm, and was gardened and farmed as early as 1900.
First, some relatively recent history. On November 12, 2013, the El Paso Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously approved changing the name of the "Bear Creek Community Garden” (also referred to as "Bear Creek Gardens") to the “Charmaine Nymann Community Garden at Bear Creek Regional Park”. The BOCC honored and recognized Char for her many years of service in keeping the garden functioning and available as a community garden for the public. Follow this link for the official news release of the renaming. To view a short video about the garden click here.
In 1900 El Paso County purchased a 525 acre “ranch”. Part of the property became the Bear Creek Regional Park of today, while other portions were sold over the years and developed into residences of the Skyway neighborhood which surrounds the Park.
The “ranch” area of 21st Street was as close to perfect as exists in this region for gardening and farming. The soil in this small valley was rich compared to many of the other soils in the region. There was a nearby source of water (Bear Creek), and there was lots of open space to provide over 10 hours a day of sunlight in the summertime.
The property was purchased for the purpose of building a new and larger El Paso County Poor Farm to replace the earlier Poor Farm built in the 1880’s on El Paso Street between Boulder and Saint Vrain Streets. County Poor Farms were a model used throughout the United States for many years to provide various social services safety nets to folks who were ill and/or poor, both young and old. When El Paso County abruptly shut down the Poor Farm in February 1984, it was one of the last two Poor Farms operating in the entire United States. If you were young and fit and lived at the Poor Farm, you were required to help work the land. In fact, the gardening and farming work done by Poor Farm residents, which included the amendment of the soil by composting, and harvesting of produce and crops, often resulted in a profit returned to El Paso County.
Residents of the El Paso County Poor Farm worked an area that included the current garden continuously from 1900 until about 1976. Current interest in eating healthy chemical-free vegetables, organic gardening, local food movements and sustainability are reincarnations of the thinking and actions related to this garden area going back nearly 115 years.
From 1976 to 1985, Colorado State University Extension established and operated a community garden on the acreage of the current garden. In 1985, CSU Extension withdrew from managing the garden due to budget and staff reductions. Many of the gardeners who were gardening at that time went to the El Paso Board of County Commissioners to ask that the garden be continued under the auspices of an association composed entirely of active gardeners. The County Commissioners agreed to give the association, which became the Bear Creek Garden Association, a lease to use and operate the garden to grow vegetables for personal use.
Char Nymann was the primary gardener at that time with the passion, foresight and energy to get the Bear Creek Garden Association (BCGA) started. She filed Articles of Incorporation to form a Colorado nonprofit corporation and worked with other volunteers to write Bylaws and Garden Rules to govern the day to day operation of the garden. The gardeners then elected a board of directors, established plot fees to pay for water and maintenance of the garden and began accepting applications from new gardeners who wanted to join them in gardening at Bear Creek.
Over the years the garden has been enlarged, the water system has been completely replaced and the garden fence has been renovated regularly. As many as two hundred gardeners grow vegetables on full and half plots each year. In 2003, BCGA was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All donations to BCGA are fully tax deductible.
Char also recognized the need to give back to the greater community. Today, gardeners donate produce regularly to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Silver Key Senior Service, both of which pick up at the garden weekly. Others deliver their vegetables to favorite charities including Care & Share, the Marian House Soup Kitchen and the Rescue Mission. There are three nonprofit groups that each garden a plot as well: The Place, Center on Fathering and at the education program of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The latter uses the plot as part of the teen education program at the Zoo. Gardeners participate in occasional garden work days to support the charity plots and keep the area looking attractive. Camaraderie develops readily in the garden and newcomers are quickly integrated with our core group of veteran gardeners.
Char Nymann was instrumental in bringing weed-eating goats to Bear Creek Park for more than 15 years. The goats control noxious weeds, eat fire tinder to mitigate the risk of wildfires, and perform soil reclamation on 20 acres surrounding the garden, thereby ensuring that no chemicals need to be used for weed control in areas adjacent to the community garden. Funds are raised by BCGA each year to pay for the annual grazing by a herd of up to 800 cashmere goats. Go to the Support the Garden tab for more information on our goat project, make a donation, and become a Friend of the Goats.
The BCGA receives no profit from the garden, and relies on volunteer gardeners to perform most maintenance work. Plot owners at the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden are asked to do at least four hours of volunteer work during the gardening season.
The Charmaine Nymann Community Garden at Bear Creek Regional Park is located southeast of the El Paso County Parks Department headquarters building at 2002 Creek Crossing Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado. From the intersection of West Rio Grande Street and 21st Street, go east on West Rio Grande and turn right at the first intersection, which is Creek Crossing. There is a large parking lot in front of the Garden.