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Down by the banks

by Ruth Orr

WALSENBURG-  Down on the river… youth of Walsenburg are coming together with the help of  Libre resident Electra Fowler to build a river walk worthy of our historic community.  As of right now, the project is envisioned to stretch from the community center to the Walsenburg Power Plant and perhaps all the way to La Veta.

    Rocky Mountain SER is paying the twenty-two workers, aged 14 to 21, minimum wage, and Fowler is being paid through the Department of Social Service.  The participants come from a variety of different backgrounds.  Many of them are at risk, most have single parents, and a few are homeless, meaning that they don’t have a place to go home at night, but instead couch-surf with friends.  Many have suffered abuse. 

    Fowler feels especially passionate about the project, and got involved, among other reasons, because her mother’s last walk before she committed suicide was along the river. 

    After a 2008 speech by Mark Udall in Walsenburg , Fowler drove along a river path out to Walsen Plant, and realized how beautiful it was.  She then realized it connected with an original trail behind the community center, (built years ago by one of the workers’ family members.)  She decided that the proud, historic, and dignified Walsenburg community deserved a “special place, in this town.  This town needs more beautiful, special places.  The community is really rich and attractive.  It needs the dignity of that type of community and history in a place here.”   Fowler continues, “My hope is to use architecture and urban design to transform the community through creating precious places.”

    Fowler worked for the county for eight months for free to get the project started.  She then connected with Chuck Macchieto at Social Services, who helped her start the program.  Fowler is hopeful that the program will continue next year as a summer program.

    She has been using her own design principles, such as gratitude, beauty, and memory, to help the youth grasp concepts that they hadn’t understood before.  Fowler hopes that working on the walk will give participants a sense of ownership of the project, so that they will protect it.  Similarly, she helped them build a garden so that they could see things grow, not be destroyed.  Fowler also has the workers listen to poetry, which they can relate to, to try and help them develop their own voices.  It has already had a positive effect on several.

    Nature is a sanctuary Fowler says.  When she was little, one place she felt safe was making fairy villages on a hillside behind her father’s house.  Similarly, she hopes to get the kids to recognize the sanctuary of the outdoors.    

    Fowler also is hoping that the community of Huerfano County will pitch in and donate things to help their youth out.  Any kind of drought tolerant plants, like lilacs, yellow roses, bush plums, grape vines, or native plants would be appreciated. She would also like help with a forestry program in the fall. Help with grants would be fantastic.  She is also hoping for a studio space to use as “base,” a place for the youth to come and put their maps on the walls and plan their trail.  Any help the community gives will be greatly appreciated and beneficial to the whole river walk trail.