Heading to Waterton Canyon to admire the spectacular views and famous bighorn sheep? Ready to hike — or bike — the 6.5-mile trail?
This summer, 40 volunteers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be out there with you, walking the trail and talking with visitors about the canyon’s animals, environment and its special role in Denver’s water supply.
They are part of the new Watchable Wildlife program, a partnership between CPW and Denver Water that began in April.
“The ambassadors are here to answer any questions people have while they’re visiting the canyon,” said Terri Doolittle, Denver Water’s senior recreation ranger in Waterton Canyon. “There’s so much to see in Waterton — it’s nice to have the volunteers to help us talk to all the visitors.”
Waterton Canyon draws up to 2,000 visitors on a busy weekend day and more than 100,000 annually. Hikers and bikers share the road that winds through the canyon with Denver Water crews (and their families) who use it to access three dams along the South Platte River.
“We really wanted to enhance the visitor experience” said Ben Mezger, Denver Water recreation ranger. One way, he said, is to keep people and animals safe by teaching visitors about wildlife etiquette.
Which brings us back to those bighorn sheep.
“A lot of people come to Waterton to see [them],” said Harry Morgan, one of the ambassadors. “We want to remind our guests that sheep are wild animals, and the canyon is not a petting zoo.”
Morgan says visitors should stay 40 feet away from bighorn sheep and clap their hands to get the animals to move if they’re blocking the road.
“It’s really special to see the smiles on kids’ faces when they first see a bighorn sheep,” said Paul Bleau, another ambassador.
Waterton is also home to other animals, including bears, eagles, hawks, trout and rattlesnakes.
The ambassadors will be in the canyon every day during the summer and fall. As part of the program, visitors can also stop by a new information cabin located at the entrance of the canyon.
The cabin is a mini-nature center filled with educational materials, maps and brochures. There are also antlers, skins and footprint molds of animals that call Waterton home.
“We’re hoping families will come and enjoy the canyon and meet our new ambassadors,” Doolittle said. “We want everyone to walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for the environment, wildlife and Denver Water.”