It was a long path from an old sand and gravel pit alongside Thornton’s Riverdale Road to a clean open space, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said. “A project like this just does not just …
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It was a long path from an old sand and gravel pit alongside Thornton’s Riverdale Road to a clean open space, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said.
“A project like this just does not just happen,” Weiser told a group of residents and officials from Adams County and the state June 6 at the dedication of the new Pelican Ponds Open Space. Pelican Ponds is a new 200-acre natural recreation area along Riverdale Road between the 8800 and 9600 blocks of Thornton.
The parcel was among dozens that benefited from the 1983 Rocky Mountain Arsenal lawsuit with Shell Oil that ultimately became Colorado’s Northeast Greenway Corridor.
In addition to setting aside arsenal land in a 2008 settlement, the company donated $10 million to greenway projects around the area and $17.4 million to clean up and restore natural resources.
“Think about this: A lawsuit filed in 1983 culminated in a significant damage award that was approved to be put towards making this property more beautiful so that future generations would have more open spaces and advance an overall vision of a greenway connecting open spaces,” Weiser said. “That’s how we roll in Colorado.”
That money helped clean up the 88th Avenue Open Space, which became the Pelican Ponds Open Space. It’s located along the west bank of the South Platte River Trail between 88th Ave. and 96th Ave. in Thornton.
It includes multiple paths leading to two small ponds, both home to various kinds of waterfowl - including the sites namesakes, Pelicans.
This project restored and enhanced surface water, wetlands, groundwater, riparian, and grassland habitats. It also built facilities and recreation opportunities, including a parking lot, picnic shelters, fishing access improvements, trails and wildlife viewing areas.
“If we can link public open spaces together, it will be a great thing for Colorado,” Weiser said. “Well, the Pelican Ponds will be one of the gems that make up that series of parks and open spaces.”
In all, the arsenal settlement paid for about $1.75 million of the project — about half.
“That money just went for restoring the natural resources — the water, the wetlands and vegetation,” said David Kreutzer, Colorado’s first assistant attorney general. “The trails and parking lots and the shelters had to come from the local governments.”
The Adams County Parks, Open Space and Cultural Arts Department, the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife and the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District paid for those improvements.
“Significant projects like this are rarely completed without the collaboration of many different groups,” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said.
O’Dorisio said the project relied not just on money from the groups but their expertise as well.
“This is a former sand and gravel pit that was mined back in the day and it’s in the flood plain of the South Platte,” he said. “That’s where the reclamation district proved to invaluable, due to a habitat improvement project along the South Platte River directly adjacent to this site. Although they were separate projects, they were designed to be complementary and to work together.”
Golf cart tours
After speeches and revealing a new sign identifying the open space, county officials gave residents quick tours of the site on golf carts.
Thornton resident Becky Lepsch took a ride on a golf cart but said she didn’t really need it. She’s a neighbor of the project and has walked it daily. She’s pleased with the work.
“This was all open field before,” she said. “There was a path along the Platte, but nothing here. It’s just a great place to walk. I’ve been walking the neighborhood for years, just saying hi to people. But now it’s nice to have someplace else to go.”
She said she’s looking forward to seeing wildlife settle into the area. She’s found one family of foxes already.
Neighbor John Simmons said it expands the area’s recreation options.
“That’s the nicest thing about it, that it brings in new recreation options we just didn’t have before,” Simmons said.
Neighbor Joel Daniel identified himself as a foe of the project, but said he’s actually fine with the overall project.
“What I don’t like is the placement of the parking lot,” Daniel said. “I’ve lived here for 35 years and I’m a fan of what they’ve done, but they sure could have put the parking lot down there. That’s my biggest problem.”
The lot overlooks his backyard, across Riverdale Road, and he would have preferred having it a few 100 feet to the south.
“It’s being selfish, but you know,” he said. “We’ll have more cars here and more people and that’s going to make my dogs bark more. So I guess I’m going to have to keep them in more from now on.”
County staff is designing a nature play area that should be constructed by early 2020.
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