In the spirit of the holiday, I want to give thanks for Waterton Canyon.
As an outdoor enthusiast with two young children, the canyon has become our family sanctuary. In 15 short minutes we can be on a trail — actually a Denver Water service road — large enough for the kids to ride their bikes without impeding others, while we gawk over the varieties of birds, reptiles and mammals along the way.
Like others who love the canyon, our time in this oasis has been limited since the spring of 2015, when the High Line Canal diversion dam, halfway up the canyon in the South Platte River, deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced.
Since then, it’s been nearly two years of intermittent, months long closures and restrictions on public access while crews worked to rebuild the dam.
It was a long and challenging process, but construction on the dam is officially complete.
On Nov. 25, hikers will be allowed back into the canyon just in time to burn off the Thanksgiving stuffing, gravy and sweet potato pie.
Just as grateful as I am for this recreational retreat next to the city, I’m even more grateful for the true purpose of the canyon: to provide 1.4 million people in the Denver metro area with clean drinking water.
As explained in “The ‘trails’ and tribulations of Waterton Canyon,” the No. 1 priority of this working facility is to store and send water to two of Denver’s three drinking water treatment plants. That means infrastructure maintenance and upgrades are frequent and must take priority over recreation.
In fact, the next weekday closure is already looming. A separate construction project wrapping up at Strontia Springs Dam, located at the top of the 6.5-mile canyon, involves heavy equipment, creating unsafe conditions for recreationists for the last three weeks of the year.
This certainly won’t be the last time the gates are closed to the canyon, either. So, here’s my advice:
1) Take advantage of the times when Denver Water is able to safely allow recreation on its service road. 2) If you see a wild turkey in the canyon the day after Thanksgiving, you might not want to look him in the eye.