Denver Parks & Recreation to manage expanded native grasslands surrounding Denver International

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Denver International Airport (DEN) in Colorado has signed an expanded memorandum of understanding (MOU) to give managing control of 382 more acres of native prairie grasslands to Denver Parks & Recreation (DPR).

At 53 square miles, Denver International Airport (DEN) in Colorado has hundreds of acres of native prairie grasslands, including some of the most intact remnant parcels of historic prairie land that exist in Denver. Denver Parks & Recreation previously oversaw, managed and maintained 198 acres of DEN’s prairie grasslands.

The MOU, which began January 14, 2023, has increased the area managed by DPR to approximately 580 acres located in the Peña Scenic Buffer, along Second Creek, north of Peña Boulevard at Tower Road, and at the property line between DEN and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This acreage is approximately twice the size of City Park, the largest park in Denver. This area includes First Creek and Second Creek – two waterways home to diverse habitats that support a wide range of wildlife species including nesting bald eagles.

DPR’s management of the additional acreage is expected to benefit the airport and surrounding communities by enabling carbon sequestration, soil health, erosion control, noxious weed control and treatment, prairie grassland restoration and maintenance of DEN’s multi-use trail system. Grassland restoration could eventually include the use of DEN compost to assist in reseeding.

Through this partnership, DEN will pursue grant funding to connect a regional multimodal trail system to the airport. The partnership will work to improve equity initiatives that increase access to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge through Montbello and the Far Northeast – neighborhoods that are primarily made up of communities of color. Bison, nesting eagles, burrowing owls and black-footed ferrets are among the wildlife within the refuge. DEN and DPR are also exploring ways the partnership can create an opportunity to restart conversations with the refuge to expand the bison habitat east onto DEN land.

Phil Washington, CEO of DEN, commented, “One of the guiding principles of Vision 100, our strategic plan, is to become the greenest airport in the world. By utilizing Denver Parks & Recreation’s knowledge and understanding of prairie grasslands, our airport is better equipped to sustainably enhance the nature and wildlife that exists on DEN property.”

Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver Parks & Recreation, said, “The vision for managing this natural resource would not be possible without the support of our partners at Denver International Airport. Combining the natural resource management of Denver Parks & Recreation with airport land allows for the management of the currently largest open space in our city and protects its natural resources, including vegetation and wildlife.”

Stacie Gilmore, city councilwoman for Denver’s District 11, said, “Open space is so important for our well-being to recharge, exercise and experience the environmental benefits. The significant expansion of the DEN at First Creek Open Space by approximately 380 acres, creates connections to our trail system and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge for communities that have been historically forgotten or excluded from the natural world.”

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