JoAnne Skelly: GROW – Thanks for the Beauty |

JoAnne Skelly: GROW – Thanks for the Beauty

By JoAnne Skelly
Mary Fischer stands beside the depiction of ranchers overlooking their property at the E. Fifth Street bridge in this file photo. The overpass depicts the history of the early ranchers.

As I drive the freeway through Carson City, I am reminded of one of the best Master Gardener Volunteers’ gifts to the community. From the spectacular eagle sculptures at either end of the freeway to each of the metal sculptures along the rest of the freeway and on/off-ramps to the landscaping, multi-use path and the patterning on the walls, I remember a group of Master Gardeners from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension who created what we see today.

Master Gardeners took an intense 5-week series of classes with Cooperative Extension and then gave back volunteer time each year as a payback to the community and to stay a certified Master Gardener. In the early 90s, one volunteer-in-training came to me as Master Gardener coordinator and said “I don’t garden, but I want to work on getting the freeway that is being planned for Carson, landscaped and made attractive. Could that count for my volunteer hours?” I thought while unusual, it was an admirable and project and said “Of course!” Little did I know that it would be over a 15-year commitment. Not only did she work on the project, but she formed, along with other Master Gardeners and community volunteers, an amazing non-profit called GROW, “Gardeners Reclaiming Our Waysides.” She was the leader of the group, but the efforts of all and thousands of hours of time and meetings were what it took to change the policy of the Nevada Department of Transportation’s (NDOT) on landscaping Nevada freeways.

Initially, NDOT didn’t do much landscaping. After hearing that on a different freeway project the soil used to replace what was excavated was contaminated and plants couldn’t grow in it, GROW fought long and hard to make sure our soil was stockpiled and brought back as any necessary fill. When no agency could commit to the long-term maintenance a heavily designed landscape would require due to budget and staffing constraints, GROW worked with all parties to have native, drought-tolerant, low maintenance landscaping installed as well as artwork to further beautify the corridor, on/off-ramps and roundabouts. This dedicated team persisted until they also had the walls designed with the symbols of the river on the east walls and the mountains on the west. 

GROW members were persistent and never gave up and so today, thanks to all their work and grant writing, we have a freeway that is interesting to look at, with a now-established landscape and artwork that honors our history and the natural environment around us.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.