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It’s not too late to take a drive (or a bike ride, or a stroll) to see the blossoms along Littleton’s Crabapple Route, a serene seven-mile path through the neighborhood south of downtown lined with flowering crabapple trees.
Though many of the trees are a wee bit past their prime blooming stage, many of the smaller, younger trees on the route are in full blossom, filling the air with a heavenly perfume.
Over 7,000 trees line the route, many of which are more than 40 years old, said former city manager Larry Borger, president of Littleton Crabapple Route Inc., the nonprofit that maintains and promotes the route.
The route has its origins in a city beautification project started in the late 1960s by former mayor Vaughn Gardinier, Borger said.
“Cities do more than just pave streets and run the police department,” Borger recalled Gardinier saying. “We’re not a poor community — we ought to invest in city beautification.”
Gardinier convinced city council to create a program that would plant flowering crabapple trees in residents’ yards, free of charge. The idea of demarcating a route was still decades away, though.
Many of the route’s trees were installed in the 1970s, and were a variety that grew and dropped crabapples, Borger said, frustrating some.
“The city considered it a headache in the fall, because the little apples would be smushed on the sidewalk” Borger said.
In 2011, Gardinier, long since retired, approached city council again, asking to officially designate a route that would take visitors down lanes lined with the most spectacular trees.
“Vaughn realized someone had to be around to keep bugging the city about maintaining the trees and the route,” Borger said. “He started the nonprofit to raise money to replace trees that died.”
Gardinier passed away in 2012, and Borger took up the mantle of maintaining and promoting the route in honor of his old friend and colleague.
“Vaughn was my best friend,” Borger said. “I delivered the eulogy at his funeral service. Of course, he had a way of relating to people where everyone felt like they were his best friend.”
Borger said the route enhances Littleton’s identity.
“It provides a sense of community. A continuity, if you will. Littleton’s worked hard at that.”
Borger and others have worked hard to promote the route. Eagle Scout Cole Hancock worked to have the route included in Guinness World Records in 2014, under the record “most flowering crabapple trees per capita.”
The tally was roughly one tree for every six residents, Borger recalled, but said the folks at Guinness were unimpressed.
“That doesn’t sell books,” Borger said. “What sells books is how many times you can jump on a pogo stick without stopping or how many ping-pong balls you can cram in your mouth.”
Borger did succeed, however, in getting former mayor Phil Cernanec to declare Littleton the “Flowering Crabapple Capital of Colorado.”
Today much of the work along the route is completed, as Borger and company have replaced hundreds of trees along the route that had died in the decades preceding the route’s designation.
The replacement trees, provided at a discount through a partnership with O’Toole’s Garden Center, are largely a newer variety called Royal Raindrops that feature a “persistent fruit,” meaning they don’t drop off the tree in the fall, Borger said.
The route itself is mostly filled in, Borger said, and he and his group are fanning out across the city, finding other places to plant.
The streetside trees can indeed be a bit of a headache for city crews, said David Flaig, the city’s landscape manager, who said the low and wide shape of mature crabapples can impede rights of way.
“They’re not necessarily the best street tree because we want to keep a 14-foot clearance above travel lanes and a 10-foot clearance above sidewalks,” Flaig said. “There’s certain places they’re planted where they become a maintenance issue, especially when there are thousands of them.”
Flaig encourages homeowners who want to add to Littleton’s crabapple heritage to plant trees closer to homes and farther from the street.
Still, Flaig appreciates the route’s beauty.
“It’s a great thing and Littleton is known for it,” Flaig said. “It’s a good thing for the city. It attracts a lot of people, and it’s a great legacy for Vaughn Gardinier.”
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