Off Limits

Denver International Airport, that little bigtop on the prairie, has never exactly blended in with the natural environment. And why should it? DIA's an airport, not a state park, and its form should follow a function dedicated to great planes, not the Great Plains. But despite its size, noise and deadly de-icing chemical spills, DIA occasionally has trouble holding its own against nature. The bathrooms do double duty as tornado shelters, and vexing varmints abound: Bunnies eat the wiring out of parked cars, bald eagles with delicate nesting habits demand that flight routes be altered, burrowing owls delay constructions, and those damn sparrows swoop through the concourses, dropping their own spent fuel on the unfortunate passengers passing below.

But now it looks like the airport has declared a truce, reclaiming the ecosystem as its own -- at least on the signs DIA recently posted in its parking garages to help harried travelers remember where the hell they left their cars. Apparently, differentiating the areas by East/West, numbered levels and lettered rows wasn't enough; now DIA has added colors and symbols to its directional system. According to DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon, the designated color for the Terminal West side is red, with a different Western symbol on every level: a campfire, a cowboy boot, a horseshoe, a spur and a wagon wheel. On the East side, the color is blue, and the symbols are animals (although Eastern Seaboard delights such as Coney Island hot dogs and salt-water taffy might have been more fun). Starting from the top, with the eagle, the lot works its way through a deer, a bear, a trout and even a wily, wire-eating wabbit. "It's a new way-finding system," Cannon says. "You see it a lot in shopping-mall parking lots."

Over the past few months, of course, the most prevalent symbol at the airport has been an orange cone, with signs indicating that different parts of the lots are off-limits because of repairs. But maintenance work has been suspended over the holidays, Cannon says, so as not to present further obstacles to travelers.

But before you face off against those animals, you may soon encounter some real beasts. The on-again, off-again idea of running a herd of bison off Peña Boulevard appears to be on again. A pet project of Mayor Wellington Webb's, the concept has come up against several roadblocks, including a lack of enough food and water for the hungry buffalo. Still, according to spokeswoman Judy Montero, the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation is once again studying a $3 million proposal that calls for reseeding the area with grasses, building a big -- and sturdy -- fence and, two years from now, slowly introducing a herd. Now, that's something you won't see at the mall.


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