High Line Canal plans moving forward

Conservancy begins next phase of enhancing, preserving beloved waterway


Efforts to preserve and enhance the High Line Canal are becoming more fleshed out in 2018, as the nonprofit High Line Canal Conservancy launched the second phase of significant planning for the canal's future.

The Conservancy, founded in 2014, is a philanthropic effort to plan for the protection of the High Line Canal, a 71-mile waterway and adjacent trail that serves as a beloved route for hiking and biking.

The Conservancy's goal is to coordinate the development of recreational opportunities and preserve the natural environment along the canal, which meanders through 11 jurisdictions and is managed by Denver Water. It runs from Waterton Canyon above Chatfield Reservoir, and winds up on the outskirts of Denver International Airport near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

The group announced last week that it is launching Phase II of its multistage efforts to preserve the canal. Called the Framework Planning stage, the effort builds on the Vision Stage, completed last year, which utilized meetings with thousands of community members to establish a vision for the canal's future.

The Framework plan, due to be finalized in fall 2018, will lay out more concrete plans for the canal. According to a press release, these include developing additional open space and trailheads, installing canal-branded directional and interpretive signage, enhancing road crossing safety, eliminating or bridging “trail gaps,” establishing guidelines for landscaping, trees and stormwater, developing health and education programs, and long-term permanent protection and maintenance.

“We're looking at high-impact projects that would be community-supported and make a big difference,” said Meredith Wenskoski, the Conservancy's project manager and president of Livable Cities Studio, an urban design and landscape architecture firm.

Wenskoski said the group's challenge is to balance the needs and resources of the 11 jurisdictions the canal flows through.

“We're trying to create a cohesive vision or plan that celebrates the uniqueness of the entire canal while allowing for customization,” she said. “When you go through Cherry Hills or Littleton or Greenwood Village, it's a slow, sleepy trail. When you get into Denver and Aurora it's much more urban in feel. The big goal is to establish continuity along its length while making sure we're thinking about natural characteristics.”

Wesnkoski foresees working on five to 10 larger projects along the length of the canal, such as new trailheads, stormwater improvement, or enhancing open space areas. There are many more community meetings to come, with several open houses in March and September.

New trail signage in the form of sandstone mile markers could start going up as early as this fall, Wenskoski said.

Entities along the canal are working closely with the group.

"We're at every public planning and process meeting," said Rob Hanna, the executive director of South Suburban Parks and Recreation, home to a seven-mile stretch of the canal.

"Those are the best seven miles, in my opinion," Hanna said. "Frankly, we see ourselves as a model of what the canal can be. We make sure the trees are trimmed and safe, the trails are maintained, and that we're maximizing the natural beauty of the area."

Hanna said South Suburban has contributed $60,000 to the conservancy.

"The community really does embrace this trail," Hanna said. "It's a great project, and trail enhancements are high on the list of every priority survey we conduct with the public."

The conservancy, largely bankrolled by private citizens, has been exceeding expectations for its ability to fund for canal enhancements, said Harriet LaMair, the group's executive director.

“We said our aspiration as an organization was to provide a third or a half of the cost of improvements to the trail,” LaMair said. “We're setting money aside for implementing this framework plan, and hoping to incentivize the public to put up money too.”

The conservancy has gotten a big response to its Be a High Line Hero initiative, which seeks to enroll sponsors to support the group, for as low as $5 for youths or $35 for adults. The effort garnered a thousand members in its first nine months, LaMair said, and she hopes for more soon after a mailer goes out in Littleon.

LaMair said she hopes the group's efforts help engender a shift in thought about the canal in places where it's been underutilized in the past.

“We want to see developers who are building along the canal start to embrace it as a wonderful amenity rather than turning their backs on it,” LaMair said.

LaMair's got big dreams for the canal, especially as the southern terminus of the trail connects to the legendary Colorado Trail, which traverses the high Rockies and ends near Durango. With the northern terminus near DIA, LaMair fantasizes about connecting all of them.

“Can't you just imagine someone getting off a plane at DIA with a backpack and just hitting the trail?” LaMair asked. “How cool would that be? In the meantime, we've got plenty of work to do.”


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