Peak & Prairie
June / July 1998
Sand Creek Regional Greenway
Adding the Final Link to a Metro-Wide Circuit of Stream Side Trails
by Julie Madden
Sand Creek is a high plains stream running through one of Colorado's most heavily urbanized and human impacted places: the northeast metro area, home to diverse land uses and populations. Yet this previously neglected and abused waterway still offers surprises in the form of the shade of old cottonwoods, frequent glimpses of wildlife, and the chance to escape the pressures of urban life just minutes away by car, bike, or foot for hundreds of thousands of urban residents.
The time is ripe to restore and protect this stream corridor as a natural treasure for current and future generations. The cities of Aurora, Denver (working with the Stapleton Development Corporation) and Commerce City have come together in an unusual partnership to plan and oversee development of Sand Creek as a regional resource. Money for part of the effort was provided in the settlements of two successful Sierra Club anti-pollution lawsuits, one against a Commerce City refinery and the other against Stapleton Airport.
The Sand Creek Greenway will provide an exceptional experience by creating a 13-mile, 1400-acre parks and outdoor recreational amenity. Access to Sand Creek will be along a multiple-use trail that links together nine new and existing parks totaling nearly 800 acres, from traditional active recreation parks and playing fields, to natural areas and interpretive parks. The stream corridor itself, ranging in width from 200 feet to half a mile, represents another 600 acres of open space which will be protected and enhanced through this project. Extending from the High Line Canal in Aurora to the Platte River Greenway in Commerce City, the Sand Creek Greenway will also complete the final link to a circuit of multiple-use recreational trails around the metropolitan area, providing a regional amenity unknown to any other major U.S. city.
The Greenway trail will accommodate recreational users on foot, bike, skates, wheelchair and horseback. While the Sand Creek Regional Greenway will provide exceptional recreational opportunities for people, its design will also protect, enhance and interpret critical wildlife habitat for a wide array of riparian, grassland and wetland species including several on the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Species of Special Concern List. Decisions regarding wildlife values were based on the results of a corridor-wide ecological inventory conducted during the planning process that helped to determine optimal trail location and became the basis for a Geographic Information System map to be used in Greenway management.
A regional system of interpretive exhibits, connected to environmental education programs at several sites along the way, will help Greenway users understand the value of the corridor to wildlife, and how urbanization has shaped the creek over time. Working with Year One and Commerce City: Mission Possible, two local youth corps organizations, we have engaged northeast metro neighborhood youth in trail construction, maintenance and restoration activities. These programs will help spread conservation messages to a broad cross-section of urban residents of all ages. For additional information please contact: Julie Madden, Project Coordinator, (303) 393-7700.