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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

See what's blooming at the Ute Indian Museum

May 03, 2022 02:49PM ● By Deborah Lazear

The Ute Indian Museum’s ethnobotany garden is a relaxing and quiet place where visitors can follow paths with interpretive signs and learn how native plants were used by the Utes. This peaceful setting is also ideal for visitors to reflect on the museum’s exhibits and ponder the lives of the Utes who traveled to this region annually.

The museum, located at 17253 Chipeta Road in Montrose, is situated on acreage that was once part of Chief Ouray’s homestead. His wife, Chipeta, is buried there. The property has gravel paths, areas of shade and sun, picnic areas and seating encircling a peace pole and large boulders.

Director CJ Brafford said that 90 percent of the what is available at the museum, including the ethnobotany garden, wouldn’t exist without its hardworking volunteers

When Lead Garden Volunteer Mary Menz began working at the museum, she found the existing quarter-acre of garden space was overrun with cultivars and weeds. In 2017, she and a few other museum volunteers dreamed of transforming the space into an ethnobotany garden. 

Ethnobotany is the science of how people use native plants, which were so important to the Utes,” said Menz, 59. “We wanted the garden to be restored and contain only native plants that were traditionally used by the Utes.”

In addition to caring for the area, garden volunteers help with tours and kid’s camps, perform clerical work and maintenance, make posters and greet visitors. Docents provide more information about the healing properties of the native plants and non-native weeds. 

“It’s a great way to support something important for the community, meet people from all over and do something useful,” said Ken Gleeson, a 13-year museum volunteer.

According to Menz, the museum has many new features, including a boardwalk down to the river, where people can observe the plants in the marsh. Visitors can also attend a variety of presentations, films and exhibits that change periodically. 

On May 28, the museum hosts a day-long community celebration with an ethnobotany garden tour, fry bread and food trucks, silent auction, petroglyph carving and activities for kids, and more. The event starts with the unveiling of the new Naturescape playground at 10 a.m. and wraps up at 3 p.m. following a presentation by artist Gregg Deal. 

Regular museum hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information about the Ute Indian Museum or to volunteer, call 970-249-3098. 

Read more about Montrose museums here.

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