Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dreams Really Can Come True – From Arsenal to Refuge...

Opening of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

On May 21, 2011, the ribbon will be cut at the brand new Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The history of the Arsenal, as the locals still call it, started in 1943 during the war when the US Army took the land to build a chemical weapons plant on it to defend our country. The history of the Arsenal is one of patriotism, dedication, and perseverance, and also extreme cooperation amongst the US Army, US Fish and Wildlife, Shell Oil Company, Commerce City and its “we will never give up attitude” of some of its leading citizens over several decades, during a superfund cleanup, a state of the art water treatment plant to the present wildlife refuge like no other in the world. And now everyone can truly enjoy the history and the transformation from Arsenal to Refuge.

The establishment of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge became a reality in 2004, when 5,000 acres of land were transferred from the US Army to the USFWS following the successful completion of environmental cleanup actions at the former chemical manufacturing site. By October 2010, the Refuge reached its final size of roughly 15,000 acres.

There are more than 330 species of wildlife at the site, including bald eagles, deer, burrowing owls, and wild bison. As one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the United States, the Refuge currently receives more than 25,000 visitors per year. With the end of the environmental cleanup and residential development now surrounding the site, visitation to the Refuge is expected to increase to 200,000 per year by 2020.

With financial support from Shell, USFWS has constructed at 1,400 grazing pasture for the Refuge’s wild American bison herd and built a corral to allow for safe handling, monitoring and veterinary care of the herd. The herd has grown from 16 to nearly 50 bison and will eventually increase to up to 250 animals grazing multiple pastures.

The Refuge provides environmental education programs, miles of trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and site tours for the public. More than 2,775 anglers enjoy recreational fee-based catch-and-release fishing at the Refuge lakes each year. During the school year of 2008-2009, more than 10,000 students learned about nature and wildlife through environmental education programs offered at the Refuge. Partnerships formed with Environmental Learning for Kids, The Children’s Hospital, Craig’s Hospital, Nature Rangers, and many more have allowed children and adults to visit the Refuge for special programming.

The 12,000 square foot visitor center cost approximately $7.6 million to build. Those funds came from stimulus dollars and from the sale of about 900 acres of former Rocky Mountain Arsenal land to Commerce City.

“Green” environmental design features include recycled and renewable materials and renewable energy sources. The lobby ceiling and front desk trim use salvaged wood from Colorado lodgepole pine trees killed by pine beetles. Reflective roofing materials limit heat build-up, keeping the rooms inside cool without using as much air conditioning. Cork creates a beautiful, comfortable, durable, and Earth-friendly floor in the exhibit hall. The flooring is made from thin sheets of bark peeled from living cork trees, which quickly regrow their bark.

Recycled asphalt provides a stable base for new roads and decreases the amount of waste sent to area landfills. Using old materials causes less gravel to be mined and fewer environmental impacts. Some lighting systems automatically turn on when people enter a room and turn off after they leave, reducing the demand for electric power. Native plants and landscapes naturally adapted to this region and climate require less maintenance and little or no water. Ceramic tiles in the restrooms are partially composed of recycled materials.


  1. Thank you Mayor Harold Kite and the city council that worked with him - for all the hard work getting this started years and years ago.

  2. Thank you - thank you - thank you Mayor Kite and the city council's that worked with you many many many years ago to have the foresight to see just what Commerce City had to offer. Thank you