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This article was first published in the Pueblo Chieftain. By Chris Woodka.

Colorado Mountain College wants to start a high-country nursery near Leadville that could help provide trees for fire-damaged areas or plants to use in wetlands projects.

The college wants to set up a solar greenhouse, a shade house to harden plants and an outdoor nursery to grow native forest and wetlands plants. It is seeking $200,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the project.

Mike Simon, CEO of the Leadville CMC campus, and Nephi Thompson, a biology instructor, presented the plan to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month. The roundtable agreed to refer the project to the state.

The operation would be located at Hayden Ranch, south of Leadville. The ranch, founded in 1859, was purchased by Aurora for water rights in 1998. Most of the land was sold to the Bureau of Land Management and State Parks or donated to Lake County. The 36-acre homestead site was sold cheaply to Colorado Preservation Inc., and is used as a laboratory by CMC.

“With advance notice, we can adjust operations to meet demand,” Simon told the group.

The college officials acknowledged that the size of the operation — a 7,500 square-foot greenhouse, 3,450 square-foot shade house and 3 acres of outdoor plots — would not be enough to restore large areas, such as those burned by wildfires this year.

But the plants grown in Leadville would have a better chance of survival for smaller projects, and provide an example of how high-country greenhouse operations could be set up. The project would also include classrooms and learning opportunities for students.