Peak & Prairie
October / November 1999
Mayor’s South Platte River Commission Update and Accomplishments
by Mike Mueller and Myrna Poticha
In the spring of 1995 Denver’s Mayor Webb appointed a commission to develop and implement a vision for the renovation of the South Platte River.
His charge: We want the South Platte River to be known, treasured and visited by the citizens of the City and County of Denver. If we protect our river, care for it, and help restore its beauty, the South Platte will bring to our progeny an unmatched recreational, educational and land development opportunity. One of us, Mike Mueller, was invited to be a member of the commission representing the Sierra Club and was designated as such by the chapter. Myrna Poticha joined the commission representing Clean Water Action.
The commission established goals and objectives in five areas: Water, Wildlife, Open Space and Recreation, Youth, and Neighbors. The accomplishments, in such a short period of time, are impressive.
The most basic need of the river was adequate flow of water. Its flow is so low in the summer, due to withdrawals by water users of all types, that diverse aquatic populations could not survive. A flow of 150 cubic feet per minute was determined to be necessary to support aquatic life. The commission, through the Denver Water Department, implemented a program to maintain these flows through the critical summer months. This summer was the third for the program.
To foster an integrated natural ecosystem, which would improve the environment for wildlife, the commission established the goal of a 150-foot continuous corridor of wildlife habitat along the river. The goal includes reestablishing natural vegetation for wildlife habitat.
The most obvious activity of the commission is the building of new parks and rehabilitation of some existing parks along the river to provide new and improved open space and recreation. All these parks have been designed and built with natural areas using native vegetation.
Many youth programs have been established with the participation of Denver Public Schools and the Greenway Foundation. The trail system along the river and through the new parks is being upgraded. All across the city of Denver, as well as in Adams and Arapahoe County, trails are being improved to connect with Denver’s South Platte River trail.
Much of the work was funded by one of the first Legacy Grants from Great Outdoors Colorado in 1996. In cooperation with the commission, and by action of the City Council, a Natural Areas Program was started in the Parks and Recreation Department and a naturalist was hired to get the program going. This program will be key to establishing the river wildlife corridor. A new district in Parks and Recreation was created recently to maintain the river corridor with its many diverse needs and natural areas.
These major goals were accomplished after the Denver City Council passed an ordinance making the whole river corridor part of the Denver’s parks system. Reflecting the activities of the commission, Denver was awarded the Gold award from American Rivers in 1997. Additionally, Mayor Webb was awarded a National Conservation Achievement Award by the National Wildlife Federation in 1998. However, because the Colorado Legislature passed a resolution of opposition, the river was not designated an American Heritage River by President Clinton.
The mayor’s South Platte River Commission has been just extended into 2001 to monitor completion of projects and to create a comprehensive management plan for the river corridor. This crucial management plan will guide city agencies and others in maintaining the sweeping goals of the mayor and his commission for the river.
Visit the river! It is a place of evolving beauty.
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