Thanks to a long-standing relationship between Denver Botanic Gardens and the U.S. Forest Service, Mount Goliath Natural Area is the world’s highest constructed rock garden. Located in the Arapaho National Forest – on the northern shoulder of Mount Evans – Mount Goliath is a subpeak that rises to 12,216 feet above sea level. The M. Walter Pesmen Trail starts at the Dos Chappell Nature Center where Denver Botanic Gardens’ satellite alpine rock garden is located and ends at the peak of Mount Goliath.
The partnership between Denver Botanic Gardens and the U.S. Forest Service started in 1958 when a cooperative agreement to build and maintain a nature trail at Mount Goliath Natural Area was signed. That year, a hardscrabble parking lot was carved into the byway to accommodate the growing number of visitors seeking to enjoy the spectacular scenery, plants and wildlife of the area. In 1962, the organizations dedicated the M. Walter Pesman Trail to honor the prominent landscape architect who authored “Meet the Natives,” a wildflower identification guide geared for the general public. The construction of the parking area and trail allowed visitors to explore the wildflowers, bristlecone pine, krummholz, willow, wildflowers and spruce-fir alpine communities that make the area unique.
In 1996, the Garden Club of Denver joined the Forest Service and the Gardens to rehabilitate and improve the site and make it a more enjoyable stop along the Mount Evans National Scenic Byway. The first project was to reclaim an area damaged by vehicle parking. With assistance from volunteers, world-renowned rock garden expert Zdeněk Zvolánek designed and built a unique alpine rock garden using plants native to the mountain. Planting of the garden began immediately and continues today.
Next, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado organized and led a project with 230 volunteers to construct 400 feet of the lower Bristlecone Pine Trail loop, 800 feet of the lower M. Walter Pesman trail and to revegetate numerous social trails. The newly constructed trails included a universally accessible section through the rock garden and grove of bristlecone pines. A quarter-mile interpretive loop through bristlecone pine, krummholz, willow and spruce-fir communities of the sub-alpine life zone was also constructed. About one half mile of the Pesman Trail was relocated and reconstructed to provide a better trail, to protect the krummholz and to reduce erosion.
In 1999, a grant from National Scenic Byways was obtained to design and build the Dos Chappell Nature Center building. A variety of groups including the original partners, individuals, foundations and corporations contributed time and additional resources to the project. The construction of the nature center was completed in summer 2003. The nature center serves as a focal point for interpretation and information along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
Since 1958, hundreds of volunteers have worked to protect and enhance the remarkable resources of Mount Goliath Natural Area. Seeds of local ecotypes are collected annually, propagated and replanted in the rock garden to enhance the plant communities.
Information Source: Mt. Goliath Natural Area Interpretive Master Plan (https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5190490.pdf)