Best Help Building a Wildlife Refuge 2002 | Backyard Habitat Program | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
If you want to do more with your garden than plant showy annuals, this could be the year you give back to the ecosystem. By taking a few positive steps, you can turn your open space into a certified wildlife sanctuary that's recognized by the National Wildlife Federation. Planting native flora that provide food and shelter for birds and other creatures and providing water year-round are just two of the simple things you can do. The specially trained habitat stewards at the Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center offer assistance for your more involved projects. The critters will love you for it, and they'll tell all their friends.
Now that you've turned your back yard into a wildly popular wildlife retreat, what do you do when your furry visitors decide they'd rather nest in your chimney? Log on to for tips on handling displaced baby raccoons, squirrels and birds. The site also features a sound gallery of bird calls and amusing Flash-animated paw prints that follow your cursor across the home page. The sanctuary is licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to treat and release injured animals, which it has been doing since 1982.
If wild visitors have decided not only to take over your living space but to dismantle it while they're there, it could be time to call in the experts on peaceful inter-species co-existence. Since 1987, Wildlife Masters have been available to provide advice on discouraging incursions by a wide variety of small varmints, from rodents and snakes to skunks and pocket voles. This time of year, the more than two dozen volunteers in the county's program, modeled after the Master Gardener volunteer corps, field a number of calls about getting rid of woodpeckers, or, more likely, the northern flicker, which has a habit of drilling huge holes in the sides of houses. Here's a tip: Fake owls don't work. Check out ctylist.html for a list of extension-service offices in other counties.
The latest baby polar bear and baby giraffe are, of course, welcome additions, and who can resist a wee pair of warthogs? But the ever-expanding Denver Zoo added a particularly genteel touch to its grounds last spring with the debut of a gorgeous endangered-species carousel. Kids love to pick their favorite mounts from its hand-carved menagerie, which includes shiny, lacquered pandas, tigers, panthers, giraffes, zebras and more, including an elegant peacock throne for those little ones too timid to go up and down and around and around at the same time. You could say the zoo experience has come full circle.
Now that your yard is overrun with creatures from the wild, your dog could probably use a day trip. Take him backpacking, and he could earn a Champion title from the Canine Backpackers Association. All he has to do is complete three ten-mile hikes while carrying a pack, water bowl and water weighing 25 percent of his body weight. If he carries less weight, he can still become a Trail Dog. CBA is open to all dogs, mixed-breed or otherwise, and humans can join for a mere $20 per year. The organization is the brainchild of Conifer writer Maggie Bonham, and the Web site,, features some very useful rules for hiking with dogs, champion or otherwise. First among them: Don't let him chase wildlife -- he can do that at home.
The town of Leadville is mining history from its mining history with the Mineral Belt Trail. The twelve-mile black-topped trail circles the town and its mining district and is perfect for hiking or biking -- or using any form of wheeled, non-motorized transportation -- past such historic sites as Horace Tabor's Matchless Mine, where Baby Doe spent her last eccentric days. The trail, which follows an old railroad bed, passes nine historic mines in all and can be accessed from one of the many "on ramps" throughout town. It's groomed for snowshoeing in the winter, too.
Don't forget to stop and smell the primroses as you hike along the 1.5-mile Pawnee Buttes Trail, the only maintained hiking trail on the grassland -- and one where wildflowers bloom in the shadows of the 300-foot-high sandstone cliffs. In mid-June, when the prickly pear cactus, purple locoweed and white prairie phlox are blooming on the shortgrass steppe, the show is particularly brilliant, but spring's less showy displays are also rewarding. Donald L. Hazlett, a native of the eastern plains, has identified 521 different plants that grow on the grassland's 193,060 acres, including the Machaeranthera tanacetifoli (tansy aster), Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower) and Arenaria hookeri (tufted sandwort). His Vascular Plant Species of the Pawnee National Grassland is available at the U.S. Forest Service's office, which supervises the grassland, in Greeley.
You can rely too heavily on technology, especially in the back country. Just because you have a cell phone or a Global Positioning System receiver doesn't mean you won't get lost. In February, the U.S. Geological Survey office in Lakewood offered free two-hour courses on maps and compass reading and how to relate both skills to the proper use of GPS. While a bare-bones GPS costs about $150, you should also pop for a topo map; using the two together you'll always know exactly where you are. How to get back from there is up to you.
Petrified plants are waiting to be found at the Florissant Fossil Quarry; they're in between layers of "paper" shale. For $20, you can pick up a crate -- approximately forty pounds -- of the fossiliferous shale that must be split and examined on site. Visitors can also search piles of shale at an hourly rate of $7.50 for adults and $5 for children seventeen and younger. Any unusually rare or scientifically valuable finds must either remain with the Clare family, who have owned the site for four generations, or be donated to a museum of the finder's choice. Nature's Wealth is the on-site fossil shop that has a collection of insect and plant fossils for sale, as well as jewelry, mineral samples and children's fossil-collecting kits. The quarry is next to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, but don't even think about taking anything home from there.
Play paleontologist for a day, and take home a little piece of prehistory from a virgin site on the Morrison Formation. Owner Dana Forbes is sure visitors to his seventy acres eighteen miles east of the town of Dinosaur will be rewarded for participating in scientific digs, because many bone fragments are clearly visible on the surface. Anyone interested in laying hands on fossilized dinosaur bones, belemnites, ammonites, shark teeth, septarian nodules and petrified wood discoveries can sign up for a "dig date" Monday through Saturday, May through October, for just $60 a day; family rates are also available. The fee includes an escort to and from the potential dig site, beverages while digging, lecture or leadership costs, use of rock and fossil excavation equipment, preparation supplies, documentation supplies and access to first-aid supplies. Reservations are available through the Web site only.

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