More than a recycling center
Last updated 9/22/2021 at 10:24am
Sometimes you don't know something is nearby until someone draws your attention to it. A great example is the Lending Library shed at the Fountain Recycling Center (301 E. Iowa Ave). Installed before the pandemic, the shed is part of the Little Free Library program, a nationwide network of locations where people can drop off and pick up free books. The recycling center's supervisor Bill Fenlon notes that more people are using the library shed than at the pandemic's height, but he wonders how many realize what an asset it is.
"I would say its [use has] picked up, but I still don't think a lot of people realize that it's here, and the scope of it," Fenlon said. "It's so much bigger than the little ones on the corner."
The story of how the library shed got there begins with the community garden installed by Girl Scout Troop 41660 in 2017. An article by Karen Johnson reported that the garden had an open house on June 28, 2017, attended by Neighborhood Services Supervisor Juan Flores and others. Flores thanked the troop and highlighted how 95 percent of the garden's materials were recycled or repurposed. Troop leader Jen Vaughn thanked Flores and the Fountain community for their help.
"The volunteers at the recycling center taught the girls more than how to grow a vegetable, they taught them that they can make something out of anything and bring smiles to people's faces," Vaughn said.
In 2018, the troop came back to the center and assembled a Lending Library stand for holding children's books.
"After we did the community garden up there, we had heard about the need for a lending library," Vaughn explained. "So, two of my girls did their bronze award by building the library for books to be stored in."
While the first lending library was a success, something unexpected happened. One of the center's volunteers, Rhonda Bauer, discovered many visitors used the paper recycling bins for unwanted books.
"I'm a retired school librarian, so as people came and brought their books to us, they'd always say, 'Can we recycle books?'" Bauer explained. "We would say, 'Yeah, sure, they're recyclable, but are they still in readable good condition?' So we started accumulating books."
Fenlon solved this problem by renovating a small disused shed to house books.
"I wanted to find a good use for this building," Fenlon explained. "This is all recycled material from here that I built it out of, everything except for the light bulb."
The library shed was finished in 2019. Bauer, who had to step back from regular volunteering due to health issues, has served as its custodian, making sure shelves are regularly restocked.
"Since I was already a librarian and I couldn't really help too much with the physical part of the recycling job, I volunteered to be the steward of it," she said.
The shed was registered as Charter #118680 with Little Free Library earlier this year and can be found online at littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap. Bauer comes every week to update the library's supplies, mostly via recent donations or a backlog kept in another shed. Bauer has found that belonging to the Little Free Library community, and the unique setup of having both the library box and the library shed, helps get less-used books into circulation.
"I've met with other stewards through this program who come for recycling and say, 'Oh yeah, a Little Library!'" Bauer said. "So, I suggest to them that if they have books in their Little Libraries that aren't moving well, that they come and exchange them with mine. Sometimes, it's just a matter of location and interest and the individual."
As the lending library has expanded, so has the community garden around it. Fenlon added new garden beds and tables over the last few years, creating garden spaces on both sides of the center. He was hoping to create vegetable beds that locals would care for, but there weren't enough regular volunteers.
"People would come in, they would plant stuff... Unfortunately, too many people come in and plant stuff and never come back," Fenlon said.
In 2020, Fenlon converted most of the vegetable beds into flower beds, keeping several for tomatoes planted by the Code Enforcement office that year. The garden space by the paint recycling area contains flowers and an informational stand telling people about xeriscaping and energy rebates. Every couple of weeks, Fenlon checks on the garden, replacing materials as needed with other recycled items. One recent addition is a greenhouse lined with plastic bottles – Fenlon estimated he used nearly 1,500 bottles.
"I try to add something every month or so," Fenlon said.
At present, Fenlon and two volunteers (one showing up Tuesday-Wednesday, another on Thursdays) are running the whole center. Unfortunately, this means if one volunteer doesn't show up, Fenlon has to cover everything himself; this especially creates problems in the summer when the center has a full third more visitors.
"We are in dire need of volunteers," Fenlon said. "The last two months, we've had close to 750 people a month in here."
The Fountain Recycling Center is open Tuesday-Thursday (10 a.m.-1 p.m.) and on the first Saturday of every month (9 a.m.-noon). For more information, see the "Recycling" tab at fountaincolorado.org/services or contact Neighborhood Services Supervisor Juan Flores at 719-322-2032.