SHERIDAN — A committee is planning to build a “Food Forest” in Thorne-Rider Park, where the BMX bike track used to be. The committee met with Sheridan City Engineer Lane Thompson on Thursday to discuss compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for building near the levee of Goose Creek.
The committee agreed to avoid building within 20 feet of the toe of the levee. According to Thompson, the Corps of Engineers requires clearance so they can maintain the levee and access and inspect it in the event of a flood. With acceptance of the boundary, the Food Forest is cleared to continue with construction.
Food Forest organizer Carol LeResche is a member of the Powder River Food and Agriculture Committee. When she learned about the changes to the BMX bike track in Thorne-Rider Park, she and fellow committee member Megan Taylor said they knew just what to do with the vacant area. They went to the office at Thorne-Rider Park and pitched the idea to “fill a public space with public food.”
The Sheridan Recreation District assigned Park Foreman Chuck Walters to the project, and he made the necessary contacts to get permission from the city for the forest. According to Walters, the area where the BMX track used to be will serve as over-flow parking for the baseball field as well as the Food Forest. He said that the recreation board will act as overseers and aid in providing water.
There is no water access currently at the site aside from running a hose to it from the recreation office building. The recreation district may create trenches to tap into the water system at the recreation office. Walters stated that the recreation board will not be in charge of the upkeep of the forest, but they will help move earth and unload trees and other plants as needed.
LeResche said that the project was inspired by the Beacon Hills community garden in Seattle, Washington. Planning the Food Forest started in January when she contacted University of Wyoming Extension educator Scott Hininger, started working on a brochure and began working on getting permission.
The Food Forest committee is growing. Members include Hininger; UW extension educator Kentz Willis; brochure designer Val Burgess; Landon’s Greenhouse employee Donald Legerski, who is working on the garden design; Edith Heyward, who is vice chair of the Sheridan County Conservation District; and Molly Clark, who specializes in macrophotography of bees and butterflies, studies the health of pollinator populations and works to improve their numbers.
The Food Forest was awarded a $3,500 Wyoming Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grant, which was matched with private donations. With funding and permission secured, the Food Forest committee plans to begin work next week. The group plans to get mulch from the landfill to suppress weeds and begin planning the layout of the forest.
According to LeResche, mostly perennial fruit trees and bushes including apples, plums, raspberries, grapes and asparagus will be included. There will be some annuals included, such as potatoes, so there is something to pick while waiting a few years for the perennials to mature.
The plan is for the forest to become a self-sufficient, maintenance-free natural system like a naturally occurring forest. It will not be a manicured garden. The leaves will be left to fertilize and mulch the forest floor. Information will be provided, likely in a kiosk, to educate the public on how and when to harvest the food. The committee also hopes to build a fence to keep deer from eating the forest and plan to install a pathway.
Other educational topics may also be included in the kiosk. A bee count will be conducted every year to learn how the forest has made an impact on bee populations in the area. Also, the forest itself is going to be a learning experience, according to LeResche. It is the first one in this area, and if it works out, it could set the bar for others to be constructed.