The other side of the river isn't as easy to explore on foot — not unless you want to take your life into your own hands. There is no path, not even a thin shoulder to separate the pavement from the steep hill that tumbles down to the river. Instead, there are dirt footpaths and a couple of staircases that lead to nowhere.

Kyle Zeppelin would like that to change. Eleven years ago, his father, Mickey Zeppelin, bought the former Yellow Cab terminal next to RTD and has since turned it into Taxi, one of the most intriguing developments in the city: a mixture of living and working spaces that have retained an edgy, industrial feel. Now the neighborhood is in the family's blood, and Kyle Zeppelin has chosen it for a project of his own — the Source, a combination market/restaurant/brewery/beer garden slated to open in 2013 — because of its defining feature. "The river," he says. "It creates opportunity."

But it also creates problems. "It's a work in progress in terms of improvements," Zeppelin explains. "There are plenty of relics of the way the river used to be, relics of a time when cities dumped their waste into their rivers."

The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch where Elsha Guel tried to take shelter in 2007. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
photo Courtesy of RTD, Denver
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch where Elsha Guel tried to take shelter in 2007. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch in 2011, after improvements were made. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail
photo Courtesy of RTD, Denver
The tunnel in Lakewood Gulch in 2011, after improvements were made. Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail

And Taxi is somewhat isolated — by its neighbors, by the railroad tracks and by the South Platte itself, which cuts the complex off from RiNo and Kyle Zeppelin's own Brighton Boulevard project. There are crossings at 31st and 38th avenues, but they don't make walking or cycling easy. To change the feel of RiNo, Zeppelin would like the city to close Arkins and Ringsby and reroute them, opening the river up to parks and people who could enjoy them.

He'd like to build a bridge — one that would sew the two sides of RiNo together. The city and the Greenway Foundation would also like to build a bridge; in fact, the Greenway's $14.6 million plan for the area calls for a pedestrian "art bridge," art park, sculpture garden, community garden and boat launch. Zeppelin likes the concept, but he's tired of waiting.

"The river looks exactly the same as it did ten years ago when we started talking to them. We want to realize that thing sooner rather than later," he says. So Zeppelin is pricing out his own bridge, something that could cost just $250,000.

"There is a hundred million dollars of investment going on right here," he explains, describing several other large mixed-use developments currently under construction in RiNo. "You can't find any part of the city where there is this level of investment around the river." But he's worried that the city isn't keeping up: "There is a lack of political will, and influence is being exerted in different directions. No one is watching the ball."

The state is currently considering options for what to do with the nearby I-70 overpass. The National Western Stock Show wants to expand — or leave town altogether. The city should be coordinating plans for all of these areas, he says, but instead it's focusing on other places. "They just spent another $6 million on Confluence Park, and that's great," Zeppelin notes. "But there's an area here where they could get a lot more done for a lot less."

There has always been a lot of heavy lifting in RiNo. But it looks like more will be needed to reshape the neighborhood into all that it could be. Jonathan Shikes

Video: Take a fast-forward ride down the South Platte River trail

******

Metro Wastewater Reclamation

East 64th Avenue and York Street

On the western edge of Commerce City, where a Metro Wastewater plant discharges treated effluent into the South Platte River, the bloated carcass of one sorry critter bobs in the foamy backwash like a junebug in a creamy, cinnamon-flecked latte. It could be a raccoon or an opossum or possibly a mutant life form, but finding out would mean poking at it, and it appears to have already endured quite enough.

Just how much abuse the South Platte itself can take is an open question. North of downtown, the river winds through an increasingly grimy and aromatic wasteland. It's a sacrifice area, the legacy of a bargain struck long ago, a place where the rudiments of nature are subjugated to the demands of industry. For the beehives of commerce along its banks, the river isn't a resource but a long-suffering appendage — and a handy dumping ground.

Looming over this stretch of the Platte is the Cherokee coal-fired power plant. Built between 1955 and 1968, the plant burns up to 5,600 tons of coal a day, creating steam with water drawn from the Platte and a Denver Water recycling plant, and generating enough electricity to power more than half a million homes. But Cherokee is one of the more benign neighbors. According to a recent report by Environment Colorado, the South Platte is the most polluted waterway in the state, absorbing almost 250,000 pounds of toxic chemicals a year.

One longtime contributor to that devil's brew is the Suncor Energy oil refinery, a sprawling complex of tanks and machinery and railway sidings that hems in Brighton Boulevard on both sides. Contamination of groundwater at the site, which processes 90,000 barrels of crude oil a day, dates back decades. Suncor has been involved in cleanup efforts since it purchased the operation from Conoco in 2004, but the results have been something less than spectacular.

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8 comments
KevinInCentennial
KevinInCentennial

Lots of people also have fun gold panning in the river. I would love to see that mentioned along with the running, fishing, boating,etc. sometimes at Grant Frontier Park on the weekends there are more than 10 gold prospectors and most days at least one or two.

sifted1
sifted1

I love the path...I do not like the degrading comment about the homeless. This whole city is becoming a yuppie tourist trap. I hope all those "plans' for the Globeville part of the path do not go through. It is a nice area but real. Homeless people share the area with the yups all done up in thier cute little spandex bike suits and helmets. Yet the park itself is quiet and peaceful. If the plans for the area go through it will become a tourist trap like Confluence Park all clogged with people and very little wildlife. Did the evil fat cats REALLY ban homeless camping in the whole city? It is obvious they were never homeless. I laugh and laugh at the yups who pay a million dollars to live a block away from the rescue mission. I guess the REAL reason they are here is to drive the poor away to the degrading suburbs so they can have a REEL urban experience. I felt the article was really just thinly disguised boosterism.

MARGYVER
MARGYVER

I grew up in Swansea near globeville and the Platte....it used to be so horrible back in the day. Im always glad to see all the improvements. If I ever hit the lottery......im gonna give back to my old neighborhood to make sure that future generations never see it as crappy as I did!!!

Skotl
Skotl

Trying to make some improvements upstream as well - South Suburban Parks and Recreation partnering with Littleton, Urban Drainage, Trout Unlimited to enhance the river through South Platte Park in Littleton. The plan should help concentrate extremely low flows to create better fish survival and more varied aquatic habitat. Phase 1 to be constructed hopefully this fall, still seeking funding for the full plan, but the entire plan can be viewed (large file) on Littleton's website here: http://www.littletongov.org/pa...

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with your full name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Miles
Miles

Great article! I've been documenting unsanctioned use of the Lakewood gulch area for several years for a street-art project WeDUPT (West Denver Urban Preserve and Trail) http://www.sociometry.com/wpsb... It's interesting to see the greenway renewals effect on the homeless (and day-drinker) population. There are already new unsanctioned paths being trampled to and from clandestine camping spots in area – taking advantage of the new light-rail tracks segmenting off one side of the creek into barely accessible enclaves. It has however shifted a lot of homeless people away. Not so much up by the Taxi building, on a recent bike ride up there I saw easily 40 to 50 homeless people and several quasi-permanent camp spots. The recent ban on urban camping initiative will undoubtedly bring more people into the corridor hiding out from sweeps on the 16th St. Mall and Civic Center Park areas.

Whatajoke
Whatajoke

The improvements are great, but allowing Suncor to get away with decades of environmental degradation is shameful.

guest
guest

I commute by bike from Thornton to Denver on the Platte River Trail, and this trail is an urban treasure. While biking it I have seen abundant wildlife including Bald Eagles, Beavers, Owls, Coyotes, Deer, Snakes, White Pelicans, and countless other bird species. Major kudos to the Shoemakers for their dedication to this great river and its inhibitants.

 
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