Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge: A Closer Perspective to Urban Wildlife

Located approximate 8 miles north east of Downtown Denver is one of Colorado’s more prestigious Wildlife Refuge’s situated on the land of the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City, CO. The 15,000 acres is an expanse of prairie, wetland and woodland habit with a unique past. Once, this land was used for farming, and then became a war-time manufacturing site for chemical weapons supporting World War II, and after the war ended, Shell Chemical Company leased some of the idle facilities to produce agricultural chemicals. 

Starting in 1980, both Shell and the U.S. Army began an extensive environmental “cleanup” under the oversight of federal, state and local regulatory agencies. After the cleanup was started a roost of Bald Eagles were discovered prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin management of the wildlife at the site. This discovery of wildlife, specifically the Bald Eagle prompted Congress to establish the site as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1992. In the mid-90’s after extensive clean up, the U.S. Army, transferred the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing for the expansion of the refuge. It was only in 2010 that the Arsenal’s cleanup program was completed and the refuge reached its final size of 15,000 acres, making it is one of the largest urban refuges in the country. 

Photographers, Hikers, Fisherman and Naturalists have the opportunity to hike more than 10 miles of trails, enjoy extensive wildlife viewing and drive a 5 mile self-guided Wildlife Drive. The refuge is home to more than 300 species of animals including bison, black-footed ferrets, mule deer, coyotes, bald eagles, great horned owls, burrowing owls, birds, reptiles, water-fowl and also offers three lakes where one can catch-and-release. 

The Refuge is managed as part of the Colorado Front Range National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location. Refuges are grouped into a complex structure because they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management needs. 

The complex also manages two other wildlife refuges along the front range including. Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge in Arvada, CO near W. 80th and Kipling, and Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge 16170 West 120th Avenue, Golden, CO 80403. The Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day).

Source: Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Contributed by Todd Grivetti

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