High Line Canal: Planners Want to Transform Its 71-Mile Course

When he was a boy, acclaimed naturalist Robert Michael Pyle found what he describes as an "imaginary wilderness" not far from his back door in Aurora — a muddy, weedy, man-made ditch where all sorts of interesting flora and fauna had managed to survive the relentless march of suburbia. The High Line Canal soon became the budding scientist's first research site and "holy ground of solace."

Originally designed to convey irrigation water to 20,000 acres of farms along the fringes of the metro area, the High Line is mostly high and dry these days. Parts of its meandering, 71-mile course have become popular trails for bikes, horses and dog-walkers, the backbone of numerous parks and greenways. Other sections, though, are neglected, impassable, or swarmed by traffic. (Good luck trying to get on the canal trail just east of the intersection of Alameda and Havana.) But now Denver Water, which still owns the canal and its roughly 100-foot right-of-way, and the nonprofit High Line Canal Conservancy are mounting a concerted effort to do something about that.

Over the next few months, the Conservancy will be hosting a series of public forums in preparation for what is being touted as "a long-term transformational master plan for the Canal and all of its 71 miles." The idea is to channel (ouch) public concern and ideas about how to improve the High Line into a multi-jurisdictional effort to protect the canal and make its comparatively forbidding segments more accessible to the community at large. Check the Conservancy website for upcoming dates and future announcements.

The public outreach is being conducted by the planning and design firm Sasaki Associates. Ironically, one of the partners in that effort is the Matrix Design Group, which is also involved in the controversial push by Denver Public Works to construct stormwater projects in northeast Denver that have neighborhood groups there in an uproar — mainly over the proposed bulldozing of hundreds of trees on City Park Golf Course and the creation of a fifteen-block open channel in the Cole neighborhood. 

Trying to fix up the High Line, which crosses four freeways and eleven distinct municipalities in its wanderings, is a different kind of challenge, of course. "With support from each jurisdiction and in partnership with Denver Water, the Conservancy is connecting stakeholders in support of comprehensive planning to ensure that the Canal is protected and enhanced for future generations," declares the announcement of the project. 

For more on the High Line, check out this video from the Conservancy.  

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast