Frisco Sanitation District’s good neighbor policy makes a mountain of difference to Colorado’s back range

A bout 75 miles across the Continental Divide from Denver, the resort town of Frisco sits on the southwest shore of the Dillon Reservoir. Nestled between Highway 9 and Interstate 70, the town of about 2,800 got its first wastewater treatment plant in 1975.

The 2-mgd package Cantex plant (covered aeration basins) froze solid during its first winter. To prevent a recurrence, the town built a rounded covering for the basins that made the plant look like a spaceship. Twenty years later, the look was not only dated, but the wooden sides of the building were rotting.

Today, the plant has been completely upgraded, and it’s surrounded by extensive landscaping that includes native trees, flower and grasses. It’s a source of pride for the district and creates a pleasant vista for residents and visitors.

Prominent spot

The plant lies in the heart of the business district — Lake Dillon Marina on one side, condominiums and upscale restaurants on the other. It’s also in clear view of thousands of tourists driving into town each summer.

When the plant renovation began in 1994, the district knew that appearance was as important as function. Contractors tore out the old enclosure and put up attractive geodesic domes, painted brown to keep the aluminum from reflecting sunlight into drivers’ eyes, and to make the buildings less visually intrusive.

District manager Butch Green says his organization strives to be a good neighbor. “When you come around the corner on Highway 9 from Breckenridge, our plant is the first thing you see,” he says. “We’re just trying not to look like an industrial facility.”

Apparently, it’s working. “Someone actually bought a condo across the street because they thought we were the recreation center,” says Green. “They’re putting in high-end condos that look right down on our plantings. Our plant is in a planner’s drawing of the finished development, and they use it as a sales point.”

Unmatched displays

Along the main boulevard, the plant is surrounded by walls made from desk-size boulders in native red rock, staggered with shelf-like rock slabs with soil packed into the voids. Plantings grow in this soil and on the shelves. Some of the plants drape down from above, some spring up from below.

Atop the walls grow columbine, snow and summer, penstemon, lupine, monkshood, Oriental poppies, catmink, sweet william, phlox, yarrow, geraniums, rockwort, dragon’s bloat, woolly vermicin, painted daisy, forget-me-not, stone crop, and red carpet, all chosen for their mix of color as summer progresses. Most are native to Colorado, and many are wildflowers. All are hardy annuals that reseed themselves.

Behind the walls, berms are planted with assorted pines and spruces, and a healthy helping of aspens and cottonwoods. “We had planted a tree screen of lodgepole pines between us and the main boulevard, but the Rocky Mountain pine beetle took care of those,” Green says. “We chopped them down, ran them through a chipper, and used some of it for ground cover. To offset that, we’ve built berms 10- to 12-feet high all the way around to the back fence.” ­

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Friendly lighting

The old plant had massive lights in the parking lot that bled stray light like those at sports fields. Now, there’s ornamental, low-yield lighting that cuts light pollution.

The renovation was finished this summer with the building of berms around the treatment plant, landscaped with native grass and wildflowers. Green estimates the total project cost will end up at $75,000; all funded out of the district’s cash reserves.

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Neils Lunseford, a professional landscape company, did most of the planting and maintains the landscaping.

Neighbors enjoy the view. When the first flowers bloomed in 1994, people arrived with picnic baskets and took photos for their Christmas cards. “We even had a swimsuit model do a photo shoot out there,” says Green. Not bad for a plant that, at one time, squatted in town like an unwelcome visitor from another planet.

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