Longform

After ignoring the South Platte River for decades, Denver is once again panning for gold

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The humans aren't too particular, either.  — Alan Prendergast

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

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Elaine T. Valente Open Space

104th Avenue

On a quiet, cloud-covered afternoon just around supper time, Tim Baker stands on the northern shoreline of the east pond at Elaine T. Valente Open Space with a fishing pole in his hand. Clad in salmon-colored shorts, a blue T-shirt and with a tattered, green mesh trucker's hat with a Mountain Dew emblem stitched on the front, the forty-year-old Colorado native looks intent behind his camouflage sunglasses. A slight gust howls and pushes ribbons of waves against one another, and he reels in his line.

Aside from a few cyclists and another man and his young son, who are set up with rods and reels of their own downshore a couple hundred yards, Baker has the place to himself, which is fine by him. He's not here for the company; he's here for the fishing, and he's been fishing here for years, long before this 125-acre parcel of former farmland was acquired by Adams County in August 2002. "Before this was a park, I used to sneak in here and go fishing," says Baker, who was raised in Englewood. These days, he comes up after work to unwind and get back to his center.

It's not hard to see why he chose this place. On a clear day the park boasts some spectacular sightlines. To the southwest, you can catch the outline of the Denver skyline traced ever so faintly against a sprawling mountain-vista backdrop. Nestled on a stretch of road on East 104th Avenue between McKay and Brighton Roads, Elaine T. Valente Open Space comprises three fishable ponds that are linked together by an assortment of arterial bike and hiking trails that wind around the park and snake their way along the South Platte River. Motorists making their way down East 104th are most likely unaware of the wildlife and recreational activity taking place here. From the road, it looks like nothing more than a quaint roadside lake with a picnic shelter. Last Friday, a host of local politicians, led by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Governor Hickenlooper, announced that they had formed a partnership that will create uninterrupted trails and links that will connect Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the numerous trail systems in between; Baker's fishing hole will be part of that plan.

But those efforts — called the Rocky Mountain Greenway Project — are politicians' dreams. Today is Baker's reality.

On most days, the parking lot is dotted with cars, most of their occupants jogging, walking or pedaling down one of the bike paths. Today it's rather sparse. That's okay. More fish for Baker — even if he mainly catches and releases them (he's wary of the magnesium chloride they use on the roads somehow working its way into the water system). And Baker hasn't done too badly for himself. One time he pulled out a fourteen- or fifteen-inch bass, and two years ago, he saw a guy on the other side of the shore pull one that was two and a half pounds.

Yessir, the fishing is good here — so good, in fact, that he's lost the better part of entire days in his float tube and flippers. And for a guy who's been fishing since before he could walk, hooked from the first time his dad took him fishing at Dillon Lake, Baker can hardly imagine a better way to spend an evening.

— Dave Herrera

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

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Jeff Shoemaker will start his 31st year at the Greenway Foundation on June 15. He's thirty years younger than his father, which means that he and his team should have plenty of time to push the River Vision Implementation Plan, which the foundation worked on with the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation and Urban Drainage and Flood Control, merging the River North and River South plans into one grand plan; it calls for $75 million in improvements over the next decade, with $20 million of those recommendations targeted for the next few years.

The RVIP, which has been endorsed by Denver City Council, calls for short-term projects at RiNo (the Art Bridge), Sun Valley, Vanderbilt and Johnson-Habitat Park and the Grant Frontier/Overland Regional Park, as well as a renewed vision for Confluence Park, including a revitalized Shoemaker Plaza — a space so named in the mid-'80s, much to the family's surprise. "There should be a Confluence Park up and down the river," says Shoemaker. And while the Greenway pushes that master plan, the foundation will continue to emphasize its youth education program, SPREE, as well as host a variety of cultural and community events.

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