With minimal fanfare, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) recently started offering monthly nature programs at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the wildlife sanctuary’s majestic views, natural setting, and abundant wildlife, controversy still surrounds the former site of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons factory.
Rocky Flats produced nuclear weapons between 1952-1989. Between 1995 and 2007, the US government cleaned up the contaminated site. The Department of Energy (DOE) cordoned off an unsafe area in the center of the property and continues to oversee that smaller parcel.
Naysayers claim that the remaining acreage that was included in the 2001 Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act will never be safe. Federal, state, and local authorities as well as the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council disagree.
Approximately 4 years ago, the USFW announced the expansion plans for the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the exchange of a 300-foot right of way on the refuge’s eastern border. The expansion included 617 acres of land next to the southwest corner.
This acreage is environmentally significant because it is the habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a threatened species and the rare xeric tallgrass prairie.
While the construction of the controversial toll road on the 300-foot easement has yet to commence, the USFW initiated monthly tours of the refuge and are planning to open the refuge in late 2016 or the beginning of 2017.
The location of a building and the trails will be finalized this coming spring. It is anticipated that the new trails will connect to existing trails in Boulder, Broomfield, Arvada, and Jefferson County. Motorized vehicles will not be allowed on the pathways.
For decades, this buffer area has remained untouched. Migratory and resident species have enjoyed the rolling terrain and have flourished. During the tour, David Lucas, USFW project leader, stated that the refuge’s wildlife has not shown any evidence of health abnormalities. Moreover both the DOE and the USFW state that this property can have “unlimited use and unlimited exposure.”
The USFW has identified hundreds of migratory and resident species that live in harmony. However, noxious weeds such as the diffuse knapweed, dalmatian toadflax, and Canada thistle remain an ongoing problem as well as the fear of uncontrolled wildfires.
The USFW addresses the weed issue on an annual basis. Last spring, the USFW advocated a controlled burn near the southern perimeter. Local resident fears squashed that idea. USFW officials would like to minimize the risk of a devastating disaster by following a 10-year rotation of planned fires on the prairie.
Strolling through this rolling and picturesque grassland is an uplifting experience that should not be avoided due to unsubstantiated facts and irrational fears. A visit is a spectacular way to enjoy the beauty of the Front Range.
Before You Go:
Currently, usage of the refuge is limited to monthly tours. Call ahead (303-289-0930) to make a reservation for this free event. Remember to bring sunglasses, water, and a camera.
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