2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Retired Colorado Springs parks director sculpts nicest lawn in city

Published: June 20, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin

Paul Butcher, retired Colorado Springs parks director, has sculpted his Rockrimmon lawn into a golf course putting green. Mark Reis / The Gazette

Paul Butcher, retired Colorado Springs parks director, has sculpted his Rockrimmon lawn into a golf course putting green. Mark Reis / The Gazette

Doesn’t it seem like there’s always one guy in the neighborhood whose lawn puts all others to shame?

You know the type. These people create tsunamis on their yards and pile on more manure than I use in my Side Streets columns to produce a lush green carpet you’d expect to see in a rain forest.

Then they stand behind the curtains in their living room and watch as passersby stop to admire their work.

Don’t ya just hate those people? (I confess I say that as a man with a zeroscaped front yard. And I do mean zeroscaped.)

OK. I don’t hate them. I’m sure they are perfectly nice. (Even if they have nothing better to do than crawl around on their hands and knees pulling weeds and clipping stray leaves of grass.)

In truth, I admire them. I know how much work it takes to produce a beautiful lawn.

In my neighborhood, that lawn is the pride and joy of Paul Butcher.

What else would you expect from our retired parks director?

When he still ran the city’s parks, I used to tease Paul of sending maintenance crews by to keep his lawn looking so good.

Turned out I hadn’t seen nothing yet.

After he retired in 2010, Paul took his lawn to a new level. A whole new dimension, really.

Paul Butcher at his retirement in 2010

Paul Butcher at his retirement in 2010

Through painstaking, daily effort, Paul has sculpted one beautiful lawn.

I’m not talking about fancy flower beds, or lawn art or fountains, ponds or other distractions.

I’m talking about the green, leafy stuff. Nothing else.

His little lawn puts some golf courses to shame.

In fact, it looks like one. A putting green, surrounded by rough.

Paul even added a finishing touch or two.

A golf ball sits in the middle near a tall red flag painted with his name and 93 — his house number. (Either that, or it’s the 93rd hole!)

This lawn is such a thing of beauty it caught the eye of Side Streets reader Paul Miller, the recently retired founder of the PGA Golf Management Program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Miller wrote me an email asking for the story behind the golf green lawn, calling it a “work of art.”

It’s definitely beautiful and certain a lot of work.

“I usually mow it daily,” Butcher said. “Certainly no less than every other day.”

And here I thought he was retired.

“I like to mow,” Paul said, sensing my disbelief. “It’s fun to me.”

And when he’s not mowing, he stays busy sharpening the blade on his mower.

“I sharpen the blade every third time I use it,” Paul said. “It’s gotta be sharp to cut the grass that low.”

(People sharpen their mower blades? Who knew?)

This is when I started quizzing Paul, trying to get to the root of his success. I figured he was using some secret sauce to cultivate such a spectacular lawn. At the least, he must be turning it into a swamp.

So, Paul, how many thousands of gallons of water do you use a day, I asked politely.

“I never water my lawn more than 10 minutes every other day,” he replied.

(That’s approximately the same schedule I follow for bathing.)

If water isn’t the trick, he must be using an experimental “black market” fertilizer. Or maybe the secret is a genetically modified, mutant strain of grass seed.

“I fertilize once a month with the cheapest fertilizer on the market,” he said, laughing at my questions. “And I use common Kentucky bluegrass.”

Finally, I got the truth about how he grows such an amazing lawn.

“I’m a fiend about watering in the winter,” Paul said. “I water my lawn every two weeks, all winter long. My grass never goes dormant. It’s still green at the ground level.”

How, I wondered, did he stumble onto his winter watering strategy?

“I’m a turf grass guy,” he said. “My undergraduate degree in college was turfgrass science.”

So, what’s next for the best lawn in the city?

Paul said he’s got a couple ideas.

“I was thinking about adding a sand trap,” he said, chuckling. “But I was looking at it the other day and when fall comes around, I think I’ll do a football end zone and put the Broncos’ logo in.”


Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin

Actually, I look forward to seeing Paul’s next creation as he spends his retirement “lawnscaping” as he calls it.

And I have a couple more thoughts.

Would his winter watering strategy work on my bald head?

And if he’s having so much fun, maybe he’d like to wander down the street to my house with his seed and fertilizer and mower and work his magic. Heck, I wouldn’t expect him to mow more than once a month.