Just ten miles northeast of downtown Denver is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the country. Formerly a chemical weapons manufacturing plant and subsequently a highly contaminated hazardous waste site, the 16,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is now home to a diverse population of wildlife. Though the refuge will close from August 20 to September 21 for expansion of an environmental monitoring project, visitors still have time to check out the hiking trails, wildlife and public programs that the refuge offers year-round. Read on for our list of five family-friendly activities at the refuge.
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Nine miles of trails (with more planned) provide ample opportunities for recreation and wildlife viewing. The Prairie Trail through the short-grass prairie boasts views of the Front Range behind the Denver skyline, while the Woodland Trail is covered in beautiful wildflowers. The Lake Mary Trail has a floating boardwalk and scenic views for photos. Pick up a trail map at the Visitor's Center, or view it online.
The refuge offers fishing in its two lakes -- Lake Mary and Lake Ladora -- until October 14. Game fish in Lake Mary (pictured below) include largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill and yellow perch. Anglers must pay a $3 fee at the Fishing Kiosk, which supports facility maintenance like the floating boardwalk and fishing piers, and present a Colorado fishing license. Fishing is allowed on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; visit the refuge's website for more information.
3. Bird watching
The refuge was established partly because of the discovery of a winter roost of bald eagles in 1986. Last winter, the site was home to about fifty pairs of roosting bald eagles. Nature programs and tours offer birding opportunities throughout the year, but you can also do it yourself by picking up a bird check list and a pair of binoculars at the Visitor's Center and heading out on the trails. Depending on the time of year, birders might see pelicans, burrowing owls, snowy egrets, Bullock's orioles, blue herons and eagles.
2. Check out the Visitor's Center
The Visitor's Center, built using green building techniques, is staffed by an extremely friendly and helpful crew. It has a great interactive exhibit on the Arsenal's history, as well as a discovery center for children's programs and an auditorium, where families are welcome for free weekly Sunday matinee movies at 1 p.m.
1. Go on a "Wild Ride"
Experience the sights and sounds of the refuge on a two-hour wildlife-viewing bus tour, offered twice weekly throughout the year. Bring a camera and binoculars for the twelve-mile tour, because you'll spot wildlife like bison, coyotes, raptors, deer and many song birds along the route. Tours currently take place Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; reservations are required and groups of up to twenty are allowed.
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The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6550 Gateway Road, Commerce City, and open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except for federal holidays; the Visitor's Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations are required for the free public programs and can be made by calling 303-289-0930. For more information, go to the arsenal website.