Did You Know? Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge


My name is Xavier Cunningham.  I am a high school Dreamer from the Colorado I have a Dream program and I have grown up watching Stapleton develop as a community.  I didn’t know about a lot of the great things in Stapleton, yet I have learned many great and surprising discoveries: and hope to tell you about these unique places, through my eyes, in this blog series called “Did You Know?” Introducing the tenth story in the series.


Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Many people I know have never heard of this huge wildlife refuge in Northeast Denver. They don’t really know about anything north of Dicks Sporting Goods Park. They just think it’s just a lot of unused land out there. They don’t know that 15000 acres of that land is Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. I often see people going on hikes through all the trails. I see people swimming in Lower Derby Lake. I personally enjoy seeing all the different animals that call this refuge home throughout the different seasons.

This land was once a hunting ground for Native Americans to follow large herds of bison that lived off the land. Then, once settlers came from the east, it became farmland where nearly 200 families lived and grew crops. But in 1942, the land was turned into a military chemical manufacturing site as the U.S. armed itself for WWII. As the war ended, the site transitioned from a chemical weapons facility, to a facility for agricultural chemicals for Shell Oil Co., to a weapons facility for the Cold-War. Finally in the early 1980’s, the army and Shell Oil Co. started an extensive environmental cleanup that was overseen by regulatory agencies provided by all levels of the government to make sure the land became environmentally safe. Then not to long after that, the discovery of a roost of Bald Eagles prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and congress to safely manage wildlife and designate the site as a national wildlife refuge in 1992. Over the years, the refuge has expanded and adopted many more species of animals until the cleanup program was completed in 2010 leaving this 15,000 acre piece of land one of the largest wildlife refuges in the country.

The refuge is a perfect combination of short and mixed-grass prairie, woodlands, and diverse wetlands. You can find mammals such as bison, coyotes, raccoons, and deer. It houses over 280 species of birds, from the burrowing owl to the bald eagle (I didn’t even know Bald eagles came down this far). You might also see a few reptiles and amphibians like the snapping turtle, the bull snake, and the bullfrog.

The refuge has a great Visitor Center and holds everything from nature tours, to Bird Watching events, to Summer Camps, and other special events. You can also do many activities on your own like the Wildlife Drive, swimming in Lower Derby Lake, and even go Fishing in Lake Ladora. So come out, have some fun, and learn from the experiences offered by nature.

Learn more about Stapleton’s vast collection of parks and open space by viewing the new Stapleton’s Parks Brochure.

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