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  • The Denver Gazette

    Denver Water gives 45 miles of High Line Canal to Arapahoe County for preservation

    By Kyla Pearce,

    23 days ago

    Denver Water officials announced on Thursday that they will transfer 45 miles of the 71-mile High Line Canal — one of the longest continuous urban trails in the country — to Arapahoe County.

    Officials from Denver Water, the county, the High Line Canal Conservancy and other involved entities celebrated the transfer at a press conference Thursday as dozens of bikers and runners passed by on the trail behind them. The deal comes with a conservation easement to protect the canal for future generations.

    The trail stretches from Waterton Canyon in Douglas County to northeast Aurora, winding through 11 jurisdictions. About one million people use the trail each year, according to the High Line Canal Conservancy website .

    The High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to protect the canal, will hold a conservation easement for the stretch given to the county, ensuring that the canal is maintained as an open space park and trail going into the future, officials said Thursday.

    Denver Water has owned the 45-mile section for over 100 years and the handoff of the land "ushers in a new chapter for the historic water delivery system," a news release about the transfer said.

    The trail will continue to be free for hiking, biking and horseback riding, according to the release, and trail users won't see a dramatic difference under new ownership.

    Protecting the canal will require both public and private funding, according to the release.

    The conservancy started a campaign, Great Lengths for the High Line, to raise $100 million for the canal over five years. Denver Water has donated $10 million to the campaign and Great Outdoors Colorado donated another $7 million.

    Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully said Thursday the county is committed to maintaining the canal and taking it "to the next level."

    "It's been about protecting and preserving this resource," Warren-Gully said. "Now we're ready to really start moving forward into the next phase, which is maintaining it and making sure our conservation easement is strong and protective."

    Denver Water CEO Alan Salazar said that, despite not being needed for water delivery anymore, the canal is still a vital resource for the metro Denver area.

    "Denver water is an anchor institution, we deliver clean, safe drinking water, but we're also interested in the prosperity of the region," Salazar said. "The prosperity of the region is not just about water delivery, but it's also about quality of life and recreational and economic opportunities."

    Denver City Councilmember Diana Romero Campbell grew up near the canal, playing in the water as a child and seeing her father run on the trail, she said. The called the canal her father's "church," saying it was a big part of her childhood and the lives of many other people in the metro area.

    "To be able to preserve it for generations to come is so incredibly important and the canal is such a lifeline," Campbell said.

    The canal provides outdoor access and recreation to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, she said.

    "That connection transcends, regardless of where you live, you can access the canal," Campbell said. "It belongs to all of us ... it connects us to the wilderness in the city. And even though the canal attracts over one million users a year, it's still a place of solace, a place of peace, a place of beauty cherished by all of us."

    The trail along the canal is currently undergoing many improvement projects meant to make it more accessible and enjoyable.

    At a recent Aurora City Council meeting, several Aurora residents expressed concern about new pedestrian bridges and shade structures along the trail near Hinkley High School, saying ATVs unlawfully use the trail and that the planned improvements would make it easier for homeless encampments to go up.

    Project designers and planners said they have been in contact with the concerned residents and will continue to work with them to mitigate the concerns.

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