Archive for the ‘Recreation’ Category

Calling off kindergarten in the name of water supply

Relocating Dillon to build a reservoir looks better now than in 1961, says town local turned Denver Water employee.

By Kristi Delynko

It’s said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. But what if you had to skip kindergarten because your school was underwater?

Joel Zdechlik, 1961

Joel Zdechlik in 1961, the year he was supposed to start kindergarten in the Town of Dillon.

While it may sound like one of those unlikely “dog ate my homework” scenarios, Joel Zdechlik spent exactly three days in kindergarten before his school in the Town of Dillon was closed and torn down to make way for Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Building the reservoir was not a popular decision among the residents of Dillon, including his parents, Zdechlik recalled.

Fast forward 50-plus years. Relations between Denver Water and the Dillon community have turned around. And Zdechlik? He’s been a water distribution manager for the past 30 years … at Denver Water.

It all started during the Great Depression, when Denver Water (then called the Denver Water Board) began buying abandoned and foreclosed property at tax sales to prepare for the reservoir.

Soon, Denver Water owned as much as three-fourths of the town, and by the mid-1950s — before Zdechlik was born — began holding public meetings with the community to plan for the town’s relocation to a 142-acre site on a ridge about a mile north.

Joel Zdechlik, 1962

In 1962, Joel Zdechlik got to skip kindergarten and spend the winter skiing and playing outside when the town was vacated to make way for Dillon Reservoir.

In what would become the largest storage reservoir in Denver Water’s system, capable of holding nearly 84 billion gallons of water (or filling 80 Mile High Stadiums), the importance of the Dillon Reservoir was clear from the start. But there were advantages for the town as well, including economic opportunities from the recreation and tourism the reservoir was certain to generate.

On July 1, 1960, Denver Water and the Town of Dillon signed an agreement that the town’s properties would be vacated by Sept. 15, 1961.

That’s when Zdechlik got to live every kid’s dream: After less than a week of school, kindergarten was canceled for the remainder of the year. Zdechlik and seven other children in his class put their academic responsibilities on hold until first grade, while older students in the Town of Dillon completed their school year in Frisco.

At first, the kids thought the school closing was their fault. “We had a mud pie fight one of those first days, and we all thought they canceled school because of that,” Zdechlik recalled. “I spent the year playing in the sandbox, skiing, playing outside and just being a kid.”

The old Dillon School

The old Dillon School, before it was demolished in 1962.

But what was a happy time for Zdechlik was a period of great conflict. With about 500 residents, not everyone in Dillon was happy with the acquisitions, or the promised benefits. Some residents expected more money for their properties, and business owners had to deal with the logistics of relocating their operations.

Resentment toward Denver Water was still simmering in 1986, when Zdechlik accepted a position with the utility.

“My parents threatened to disown me, but it was a job with stability and long-term potential — how could I turn it down?” he said.

Zdechlik is now responsible for strategic decisions for the entire water distribution system. During his career he has watched perceptions of Denver Water shift from a steamrolling “land grabber” to a more collaborative partner.

Demolition of the old Dillon School

The old Dillon School was one of the last buildings demolished in the town.

In its new location along the shoreline of the reservoir, Dillon is a popular spot for boating, fishing, camping, hiking, biking and outdoor events. As predicted, recreation is a vital component to Dillon’s economy, with $3.46 million contributed annually from visitor spending in the region.

Today, recreation in the area is managed cooperatively by the interagency Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee (known as “DRReC), comprised of Denver Water, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service.

A few people may still carry a grudge from the old days, but Zdechlik said the community’s opinion of Denver Water has certainly changed. “The reservoir is vital to Dillon’s economy and is an important part of recreation and tourism in the area. Although the building of Dillon Reservoir was contentious at the time, I’m very proud to say I work for Denver Water.

“In the end,” he added, “I have Denver Water to thank for a lot — and not just for giving me a year off school.”

When Mother Nature flakes out, just add water

Water-sharing agreements provide yearly snowmaking operations for six Summit and Grand county ski areas.

By Jay Adams

 

 

It’s finally starting to look a lot like winter in the Colorado Rockies — just a little later than normal. Mother Nature delivered some much-needed snow at the end of November to boost a ski season that’s been dealing with warmer temperatures and limited snow this fall.

Luckily, ski runs have a solid base waiting for fresh powder, thanks to snowmaking and a helping hand from Denver Water.

Resorts typically rely on early-season snowmaking to cover the slopes. In years when Mother Nature is slow to deliver, snowmaking operations are even more critical to the ski industry.

Snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin

Snowboarders enjoy early-season conditions on man-made snow at Arapahoe Basin.

“If we didn’t have snowmaking right now, we wouldn’t be open,” said Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Summit County. “We can’t make snow without water.”

Enter Denver Water.

Through a water-sharing agreement with Denver Water, A-Basin diverts water from the North Fork of the Snake River and stores it in a small retention pond at the bottom of the ski area. The ski area then pumps the water up the mountain to 20 snowmaking machines.

“When we’re at full capacity, we’re using 1,000 gallons of water per minute,” Henceroth said.

Denver Water has senior water rights in Summit County, but allows A-Basin to borrow 97.4 million gallons of water each ski season to make snow. The ski area returns the water in the spring when the snow melts and flows into the streams and rivers that feed Dillon Reservoir — Denver Water’s largest storage facility.

Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Frisco Adventure Park, Keystone and Winter Park also have similar agreements with the utility, which shares 1.1 billion gallons of water with the ski areas each year.

“Letting them redirect water from the streams onto the mountain is a way to get multiple uses out of every drop,” said Dave Bennett, water resource manager for Denver Water. “The ski areas get their water to make snow, and we catch it after they use it.”

Denver Water has very senior water rights in Grand and Summit counties dating back to the 1920s and 1940s before their resorts were open or made snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

Arapahoe Basin uses water from the North Fork of the Snake River to make snow.

A 1985 agreement with Summit County allowed Denver Water to share water for snowmaking in the county.

The 1992 Clinton Reservoir Agreement and the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided the additional framework for ski areas to borrow Denver’s water rights to divert water from streams in Grand and Summit counties.

“The agreements show that people on both sides of the divide can work together and manage water so it benefits as many people as possible,” Bennett said.

Because 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation in the snowmaking process, the ski areas have their own additional water rights stored in Clinton Reservoir that would be used to pay back the lost water, if needed, during a severe drought.

“When it comes to water, we’re all connected,” Henceroth said. “We’ll ski on the snow this winter, and next summer they might be drinking it down in Denver.”

In Waterton Canyon, Black Friday is for the birds

After nearly two years of sporadic closings, a major construction project is finally complete. Time for a Turkey Trot!

By Travis Thompson

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.

Turkeys in Waterton Canyon

Wild turkeys, including these two, are frequently spotted in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy of Waterton Canyon enthusiast, Lori Bollendonk.

 

 

5 things you may not know about Chatfield Reservoir

This popular recreation spot also happens to be one of Colorado’s hardest-working bodies of water.

By Jessica Mahaffey

Are you a Chatfield junky?

As a long-time Littleton resident, I have fond memories of sailing, water skiing, swimming, fishing and camping at the reservoir with friends on my summer breaks from nearby Columbine High School (Rebel Pride!).

Today, I still enjoy afternoon walks on my favorite trails and take my two small dogs to the onsite dog park.

I’m hardly alone. Chatfield State Park is summer sanctuary in Denver’s back yard, welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors each year, according to Colorado State Parks.

The result: Nearly $10 million in economic impact to the communities within 50 miles of the park.

With all the pleasure it provides, many people may not realize that this is one hard-working reservoir, handling multiple duties and obligations. Here are five facts about Chatfield you probably don’t know:

album-101-21-south-platte-flood

Photo of the South Platte River flood of June 1965, looking due east.

  1. Chatfield was built for flood-control — not to store public drinking water.

It was built in 1967 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to the 1965 flood of the South Platte River that cost more than $500 million and claimed 28 lives.

This reservoir can hold more than 350,000 acre-feet of flood water in emergency situations, but its current capacity is only 27,000 acre-feet of water, the equivalent of 8.8 billion gallons.

During drought conditions, water can be pumped from Chatfield to Marston treatment plant to supplement Denver’s public drinking water supply.

  1. Even though we don’t own or operate the reservoir, only water from Denver Water is currently stored behind the dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns Chatfield and leases the land to Colorado State Parks, which oversees day-to-day operations at Chatfield State Park.

Under a state agreement, Denver Water can fill Chatfield Reservoir with water, as long as we maintain water levels for community recreation.

  1. The water stored in Chatfield is used for water exchanges.

Think of an exchange reservoir as a bank. The water we “deposit” (store) at Chatfield can be used to “pay” (trade) downstream users with rights to the water, instead of sending it from our upstream reservoirs that supply Denver’s drinking water. This allows us to keep water higher in our reservoir system and to later deliver it by gravity to our water treatment plants.

  1. Chatfield provides recreational benefits beyond the obvious.

    Bypass flows released from Strontia Springs Reservoir located at the top of Waterton Canyon keep the river at optimum levels, sustaining a healthy trout fishery for anglers like the author’s brother Jason Kirk, pictured here.

    Bypass flows released through Waterton Canyon sustain a healthy trout fishery for anglers like the author’s brother Jason Kirk, pictured here.

In addition to preserving water levels for recreation, Denver Water uses its space in Chatfield to capture water it releases from Strontia Springs Reservoir, located a few miles upstream of Chatfield. These so-called “bypass flows” keep the river at optimum levels all year long, supporting the trout fishery in Waterton Canyon.

  1. Chatfield is about to take on even more responsibility.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently approved the Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project.  The project will increase water levels at the reservoir by about 12 feet, which is about 20,000 additional acre-feet, or about 6.5 billion gallons.

But this won’t be Denver’s water. Instead, it will help meet the water demands of growing populations in Centennial, Castle Rock, Castle Pines and other Front Range communities. It will also be used by farmers downstream of Denver. Denver Water will still maintain its original storage pool of more than 27,000 acre-feet and will remain involved in the overall operation of Chatfield after the reallocation is completed.

But that’s not all. The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation CompanyColorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are developing a plan for an environmental pool to provide up to 1,600 acre-feet of storage. But there is room for more. Learn more about Denver Water and The Greenway Foundation’s effort to provide more water for fishing, farmers and fun on the South Platte: Not your average pledge drive.

So whether you are a Chatfield regular like me or someone who simply enjoys driving by it from time to time, I hope knowing more about Chatfield Reservoir increases your appreciation for this metro-area amenity.

Chatfield Reservoir can hold more than 350,000 acre-feet of flood water in emergency situations, but its current capacity is only 27,000 acre-feet of water, the equivalent of 8.8 billion gallons.

The water levels at Chatfield Reservoir will increase by about 12 feet, which is about 20,000 additional acre-feet, or about 6.5 billion gallons.

The “trails” and tribulations of Waterton Canyon

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam last spring before high water flooded the site.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam last spring before high water flooded the site, resulting in the need to return this fall to finish the project.

By Travis Thompson

With school starting and pools closing, Labor Day weekend is considered the unofficial end of summer.

This year, it also marks the end of weekday recreation in Waterton Canyon for about three months.

Recreationists will only be able to access the trail on the weekends while construction crews inhabit the canyon during the week. Read more about the 2016 fall construction impacts here.

With more than 100,000 visitors a year, it’s no secret that Waterton Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities for Coloradans and tourists alike. But as a key Denver Water operational facility, the attributes that make this canyon so great can also lead to unexpected closures.

Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs of this special place.

Why it’s great: Well-maintained trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders

The road for Denver Water employees to access the canyon facilities and Strontia Springs Reservoir doubles as the canyon trail for recreationists. Because this is a vital road for our operational crews, it’s always well maintained, providing optimal conditions for a family-friendly hiking and biking experience.

Challenge: As a working facility, there are times when infrastructure and maintenance projects create unsafe conditions for the public, prompting us to close trail access.

Why it’s great: A scenic mountain experience without having to venture far from the city

Within minutes of starting the 6.5-mile hike up the canyon, visitors are engulfed in nature, losing sight of the Denver suburbs that are right around the corner. And as the South Platte River cascades along the canyon path, the echoes of the flows bounce off the valley walls, providing an escape from the everyday din of the city.

Challenge: Environmental conditions can change quickly in the canyon. During dry times, forest fires can spark in the area. When it floods, the beautiful winding river trail turns into a hazard, as high waters ascend the river banks. In either extreme, one thing is certain: the canyon gates will be locked.

Why it’s great: The wildlife experience

The canyon is home to rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, bears and more than 40 species of birds.

Challenge: The wildlife is a highlight for visitors, but the animals are exactly that — wild. As we learned with last year’s bear situation, there are times when it’s necessary to keep the public out of nature’s way.

 

We love Waterton as much as you — for its natural beauty as well as its vitality to delivering our customers water.

When the construction crews move out and it’s safe for hikers and bikers to rush back in, we’ll reopen the canyon for weekday use.

But there will come a time when we’ll have to close it again. So when we do, know that it’s done to maintain a safe environment for the recreational users and workers who share the canyon.

Looking to branch out during the closure and find other recreational opportunities? See what some other Denver Water facilities have to offer:

Colorado-Reservoir-Recreational-Activities-Infographic

Contributing: Jamie Reddig

When the river runs through it

In most years, water use in the city brings bountiful rapids to grateful kayakers.

By Katie Knoll

2016 08 15 085456

Kayakers on the South Platte River during BaileyFest 2016.

In August, more often than not, Denver Water responds to customer demands by releasing water through the Roberts Tunnel from Dillon Reservoir.

And in those years, that action creates the perfect conditions for kayaking at a time when flows are too low for the sport on many other rivers.

And that’s when we get BaileyFest.

The popular kayaking event runs on a stretch of the North Fork of the South Platte River from Bailey to Pine and has a national reputation for Class IV-V rapids.

“We are really excited in years where conditions align to help make BaileyFest a reality,” said Jeremy Allen, who works with Dave Bennett to coordinate the Roberts Tunnel flows as part of Denver Water’s Planning Division. “This is a great partnership, and we look forward to working with the kayaking community on this event in years to come.”

The event can only be held in years when Denver Water needs to bring water through the Roberts Tunnel to meet water demands in Denver. But all the different groups involved in developing the South Platte Protection Plan acknowledge the value of whitewater recreation in the region. In fact, the plan — a landmark agreement developed by local water providers, government agencies, environmental and recreation groups — includes enhancing flows for kayaking in the actual agreement.

IMG_0179

The author (right) with event organizer Pete Bellande.

There is a family-like feeling among the kayakers who attend BaileyFest. I was honored to attend this year — my first time! — and learned more about the event from the organizers and volunteers, including Pete Bellande and Ian Foley.

I was pleasantly surprised (and a little embarrassed) by the raucous welcome I received from the crowd when the organizers introduced me as a representative from Denver Water. Afterward, a string of happy kayakers stopped by to introduce themselves and say thank you.

I can confirm that a good time was had by all — and by me. BaileyFest has recruited a new fan, and the kayaking community may soon be welcoming a new member. After being a part of the fun, how could I resist joining in next year?

Take a look for yourself by checking out this video from Vimeo user Kaelan Hendrickson.

You can fish. You can boat. But you can’t swim.

The very complicated reason swimming isn’t allowed in our reservoirs: Too. Cold.

By Jimmy Luthye

Taking a page out of the #SochiProblems playbook, officials in Rio di Janeiro are imploring athletes to be careful if they compete in an outdoor swimming event. Apparently, the water is roughly 1.7 million times more worrisome than the threshold for concern in the United States or Europe.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rio di Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic games, and some serious water quality concerns, particularly for outdoor swimmers. Photo credit: sama093, Flickr Creative Commons.

Wow.

Naturally, we’re quite fortunate we don’t have to worry about those issues in our system, which includes 12 major reservoirs and ample recreation opportunities.

So then, why can’t people swim at any of our facilities?

Is it because we’re worried it would drum up too many people at our reservoirs, making it difficult to operate our facilities?

Nonsense — the more the merrier!

Is it because we’re worried about water quality issues stemming from human contact with the water?

Well, maybe at one time, but not anymore. In the 1980s, the Colorado health department issued a guidance that discouraged body contact in water supply reservoirs because of water quality concerns. Since then, however, water treatment processes have improved and that guidance has been repealed, meaning we no longer have to worry about body contact and water quality.

Alas, the real reason swimming and other water contact sports aren’t allowed is all about safety. Of your body.

“The bottom line is that the water in our reservoirs is too cold for prolonged skin contact,” said Brandon Ransom, Denver Water manager of recreation. “When you pair that with a lack of medical supervision, it’s just not a risk that makes sense to take.”

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the "highest triathlon in the world" — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, home of the “highest triathlon in the world” — the 106 Degree West Triathlon — coming Sept. 10, 2016.

If that’s the case, what about the upcoming 106 Degree West Triathlon happening at Dillon Reservoir in September? Why are those athletes allowed to swim in the reservoir?

“The decision to hold the triathlon at Dillon Reservoir is not one we took lightly, nor one we made alone,” Ransom said. “The Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee came together in agreement, working with local emergency responders to make sure this event is heavily monitored and conducted in the safest manner possible.”

The committee, known as DRReC (pronounced “D Rec”), includes representatives from Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, the Town of Frisco, the Town of Dillon and Denver Water who come together to make important decisions about recreation at Dillon Reservoir.

The 106 Degree West Triathlon is a USA Triathlon-sanctioned qualifying event and involves elite, highly trained athletes competing in a 56 mile bicycle ride, a 13.1 mile run and a 1.2 mile swim, with medical professionals standing by, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

And that’s not normally the case.

Even in the summer months when the weather is warm and all the snow has melted, the average water temperature at Dillon Reservoir sits in the low 60s. For comparison, Rio Olympians will be swimming in 71-degree water outdoors and 82-degree water indoors.

So, while we don’t have to worry about the same water quality issues as they have in Rio, there’s still no swimming, save for special circumstances like the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Don’t fret, though; there are still plenty of recreational opportunities throughout our system that aren’t as risky. Take a look!

And check out the video below for more about the 106 Degree West Triathlon.

Cheesman Dam: Happy trout, reliable water supply

Century-old workhorse dam keeps the water flowing and the temperatures just right for great fishing.

By Jay Adams

Water travels a maze-like path on the way to your faucet: from mountain snow to high-country streams, through reservoirs, dams and canyons.

Denver pioneers developed the elaborate delivery system as far back as the late 1800s, and today’s water managers know how to get additional benefits from every drop brought into the city.

Southwest of Denver, Cheesman Canyon is one example of how careful planning can get water to the tap while sustaining one of the state’s top trout fisheries along the way.

The mid-level jet valve serves as a backup water release and helps fine tune river temperatures below Cheesman Dam.

The mid-level jet valve serves as a backup water release and helps fine tune river temperatures below Cheesman Dam.

Denver Water uses a special feature at Cheesman Dam to help manage the temperature of the South Platte River at various times of the year.

Completed in 1905, Cheesman has three ways to release water from the reservoir: a spillway on the top, a mid-level release with a jet valve and valves at the bottom.

The mid-level valve’s primary function is to serve as a backup system to send water to treatment plants downstream when the main valves at the bottom need repairs.

“The jet valve is critical to the dam’s operations,” said Dave Bennett, water resource engineer. “We can also use it to warm up the river when it’s cold, or cool it down if it gets too warm for the fish.”

Fly Fishing guide Pat Dorsey shows off a rainbow trout in Cheesman Canyon.

Fly fishing guide Pat Dorsey shows off a rainbow trout in Cheesman Canyon.

“Water temperature is a huge component for a healthy fishery,” said Pat Dorsey, a long-time fishing guide on the South Platte River. “The healthiest temperature for rainbow and brown trout is between 50 and 60 degrees.”

Keeping the water in the optimum temperature range is good for fish metabolism and improves their ability to spawn, Bennett said.

Each level of the reservoir has a different water temperature. When water goes over the dam’s spillway, the temperature can top 60 degrees. The water released through the jet valve 60 feet below the surface is in the 50-degree range, and water from the bottom of the reservoir is in the 40s.

“What we try to do is blend those temperatures together to create the best environment for the fish,” Bennett said. “Temperatures in the 50s also trigger insects to hatch, providing food for the trout.”

Rainbow and brown trout are healthiest in 50 to 60 degree water.

Rainbow and brown trout are healthiest in 50 to 60 degree water.

Adding environmental factors into water delivery requires careful coordination between Denver Water’s planning division and Cheesman Dam operators. It’s a balance that involves juggling demand for water in the city, reservoir levels and dam maintenance with the appropriate time of year and conditions for the fishery.

Denver Water also has the ability to manage temperatures along the South Platte River at Eleven Mile Canyon Dam and coordinates stream flows with Aurora’s Spinney Mountain Reservoir to improve trout habitat through Eleven Mile Canyon. 

Denver Water manages water temperatures according to the South Platte Protection Plan, a cooperative regional project designed to protect and enhance the river.

“Healthy fish make for ideal fishing conditions,” Dorsey said. “That’s why this canyon is on every fisherman’s bucket list.”

Working in tandem

Water resource engineer, Nathan Elder, brings the beauty of bicycling to the visually impaired.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler, former administrative assistant in the Planning Department for Denver Water, in front of Union Station after a ride from the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, along the South Platte.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler, former administrative assistant in the Planning Department for Denver Water, in front of Union Station after a ride along the South Platte River.

By Kristi Delynko

For Nathan Elder, nothing beats cruising the South Platte bike trail, or racing around the 50 miles of trails surrounding Dillon Reservoir, feeling the wind in his face and seeing the beauty surrounding him.

And sometimes, he takes someone with him.

Elder, a water resource engineer at Denver Water, volunteers for Eyecycle, a not-for-profit volunteer run organization that pairs sighted riders with visually impaired and blind adults on tandem bikes.

“I love riding, and it’s great to be able to share that experience with someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ride outside,” Elder said. “It’s great to see the stokers – the riders in the back – get outside in the fresh air and enjoy themselves.

“Many of them cycle inside on stationary bikes, so being able to help them get outside to ride is really rewarding,” he said.

Elder joined Eyecycle about five years ago, when he came across their booth at a Denver Century Ride event. He now serves as the organization’s vice president, focusing his energy not only on leading rides, but also on recruiting volunteers, performing bike maintenance and helping the organization raise funds.

He’s a master of mountain and road bikes, but before joining Eyecycle, Elder had never ridden a tandem. “It’s definitely different,” he said. “It’s much heavier, slower and harder to maneuver.” Eyecycle provided the short training he needed to become a captain, and Elder has been guiding trips ever since.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler starting their ride at Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton.

Nathan Elder and Susan Gengler starting their ride at Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton.

Constant verbal communication is the key to a successful ride, he said. He lets the stoker know when they need to slow down, stop or turn. And in between providing directions, Elder enjoys chatting with his fellow riders.

“I get the opportunity to get out and ride and meet new people, and our stokers get to experience the thrill of outdoor riding,” he said.

In addition to many 15- to 20-mile rides each season, Eyecycle also helps riders participate in longer events, like the MS 150 – a two-day, round-trip ride between Denver and Fort Collins to benefit Multiple Sclerosis. Eyecycle riders also have participated in Pedal the Plains, the Cheyenne Sunrise Lion’s Club Ride for Sight, Ride the Rockies and other popular biking events.

“It’s great because they can get out and ride in these events to support other causes and really feel they are making a difference,” Elder said.

So, what do you need to volunteer? Not much, he said

“If you have a water bottle and a helmet, you can be a volunteer,” he said. The group’s fleet of tandem bikes are all donated, many by Davinci Designs, a local company that specially builds bikes for this purpose.

“The bikes are really custom. They have independent pedaling, meaning each rider can go at his or her own speed. This is great for a new rider who may not be as comfortable riding, or one who may need to coast a bit more,” Elder said.

Visit the Eyecycle website for more information. After a short training, you’ll be out and about on Colorado’s beautiful trails, giving the ride of a lifetime to a blind or visually impaired person.

A selfie-less view of wildlife in Waterton Canyon

Wherever your outdoor adventures take you, being mindful of snakes, bears and other animals is a must.

Read and follow the signs, like the one pictured here, throughout Waterton Canyon to learn how to safely interact with the wildlife.

Read and follow the signs, like the one pictured here, throughout Waterton Canyon to learn how to safely interact with the wildlife.

By Tyler St. John

With a footprint larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, the opportunities to experience and observe wildlife in its most natural form are vast at Yellowstone National Park.

But as Public News Service story recently explained, park officials are shifting their focus from the 67 species of mammals that call this park home to the 68th found in this park every single day — humans.

Ryan Atwell, the park’s new social science coordinator, described the challenges his team faces with social media. “Every other person seems to be taking a selfie, or looking at a phone instead of watching where they’re walking,” he told Public News Service.

Sound familiar? Last summer’s story about visitors in Waterton Canyon using selfie sticks to snap photos with bears made local, national and even international headlines.

The bear activity in the canyon was so extreme in 2015 that Denver Water and Colorado Parks & Wildlife had to close the canyon for two months to protect both animals and humans.

This year, the canyon gates are open, but don’t be fooled. Bears, snakes, sheep and many other species still call Waterton home — and we humans have to watch our step.

So if you plan on hiking the 6.5-mile canyon this summer, we recommend stopping at each of the rest areas — aptly named after some of the most common mammals, birds and serpents found in the canyon — to hydrate and learn more about these popular canyon dwellers.

Let’s take a trip up to the canyon to learn more:

Mile Marker 0.25: Mule Deer Rest Area

Not to be confused with the while tailed deer, the mule deer has large mule-like ears (almost the length of their whole head) and a black forehead with a light grey face. While they may look cute and harmless, these animals can weigh upwards of 400 pounds. Turn those camera phones around the right way and use the zoom feature from a distance to capture these guys.  Their favorite feeding times are dawn and dusk, so get to the canyon early for the best chance to see them in action.

Mile Marker 0.6: Great Blue Heron Rest Area

Standing 4-feet tall with a wingspan between 6 and 7 feet, the Great Blue Heron is considered one of the best fisherman in the canyon. This bird can swallow fish much larger than its skinny neck would suggest. This heron does not reach full adult coloring until three years of age, so if you spot one with colorful head plumes, you’ll know it has been catching fish for quite some time. You are most likely to catch a glimpse and snap a picture of the bird while it is out foraging at dawn or dusk. Just don’t get too close, or it will start to squawk loudly and fly away.

These twin cubs and other bears actively foraging in the canyon led to a two-month closure of Waterton Canyon in 2015. Photo courtesy: Lori Bollendonk

These twin cubs and other bears actively foraging in the canyon led to a two-month closure of Waterton Canyon in 2015. Photo courtesy: Lori Bollendonk

Mile Marker 1.9: Black Bear Rest Area

Starting in early May, black bears begin coming out from their winter slumber, skinny, hungry and desperate for food. The bears typically hang around until September, when they finish bulking up for hibernation season. During this time, bears will forage for 20 hours a day.

We’ve spotted a couple different types of bear in the canyon this year. If you spot one yourself, please keep a safe distance and watch these other tips from a couple of ‘Da Bears Superfans.

Mile Marker 3.1: Mountain Lion Rest Area

The Puma Concolor, “cat of one color,” is an extremely rare sight. The Colorado Trail Foundation reports up to two mountain lion sightings in this area each year. If you do manage to catch a glimpse however, use extreme caution. Mountain lions can be as large as 8-feet long and weigh upwards of 150 pounds. They can also leap at least 15-feet straight up in the air and 40-feet forward. If you find yourself face-to-face with one, do not back away. Stand tall and stare the cat right in the eyes. Mountain lions like to stalk and chase down prey, so if you start to run you’ll just look like a slow moving meal.

Mile Marker 4.5: Rattlesnake Rest Area

Colorado is home to around 30 species of snake, and the only venomous ones are the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes use their camouflage to blend into their surroundings instead of engaging with people. That being said, if the snake starts rattling that tail, you are too close and need to back away. Since the rattlesnake will most likely be hiding from you, watch where you’re putting your hands and feet. The last thing you want to do is grab a rock to help yourself over an obstruction in the trail, only to end up grabbing a snake.

Mile Marker 6.2: Bighorn Sheep Rest Area

Waterton Canyon is currently home to about 70 of Colorado’s state animal, the bighorn sheep. Aptly named for its enormous horns (which alone can weigh upwards of 40 pounds), you are most likely to see the slightly smaller desert bighorn sheep in Waterton Canyon, as they live in canyon country of Western Colorado. Their most active times are in the morning and late afternoon.  It’s not uncommon to see the sheep along the canyon road. They may look friendly, but as always, it’s important to keep your distance. If threatened, the sheep will undoubtedly charge and that is one battle you are sure to lose.

 

Still looking for more adventure? From the top of the canyon you can continue your exploration on the Colorado Trail.

Just make sure to follow Atwell’s advice and practice “safe selfies” by not approaching wildlife and enjoying them from a safe distance.

A herd of bighorn sheep on the Waterton Canyon trail.

A herd of bighorn sheep on the Waterton Canyon trail.

%d bloggers like this: