AURORA | One of the region’s best-kept secrets may not be so secret for long, thanks to a nonprofit aiming to revitalize the High Line Canal Trail and ensure its permanence in the metro area’s booming and oft-changing landscape.
“We have a five-month outreach process we’re in the middle of, asking the public to write the future vision for the next 100 years of the canal,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, a spokeswoman for the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit, formed in 2014, consists of private citizens from several metro area cities dedicated to preserving and improving the historic greenway.
The region’s historic High Line Canal Trail winds an impressive 71 miles from Adams County near Denver International Airport into Aurora, across Denver and into Littleton, ending at Chatfield State Park and Reservoir at the foot of Waterton Canyon.
The trail itself runs 11 miles though Aurora. From the Spring Hill Golf Course in Aurora, the paved trail follows the oddly curvy and circuitous route that pioneers completed in 1883 as one of the sole sources of agricultural irrigation water — when everything outside of what is now the Auraria Campus was wide open prairie.
In the early 1900s the canal was a central water source for Aurora, but the city has long since stopped using it. Jones said now, with Denver Water removing most of its customers from the canal, the conservancy is looking to turn the greenway into not only an experience for avid cyclists, but one with more cultural and recreational opportunities along the ride.
The conservancy points to other successful urban reclamation projects for inspiration, such as New York City’s High Line, which is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.
So far, the conservancy has held four open houses and drafted two chapters of its plan. Jones said feedback from those open houses has been that residents want the canal to be a natural retreat in the city, with more connectivity. Right now, the windy, mostly flat canal has six major trail interruptions, 10 existing underpasses and 80 at-grade crossings.
Tracy Young, manager of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space department, said around five miles of the High Line Canal in Aurora, north of East Colfax Avenue, lacks a trail. She said one of the City of Aurora’s goals with the project is to complete this connection to the trail, which includes a dangerous crossing at Interstate 70.
She said other goals the city hopes to pursue through the planning process for the canal include completing it where it connects to the Triple Creek Trail at Colfax, improving the safety of the canal’s at-grade trail crossing in Aurora and providing connections to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and the future Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center, from the trail.
Young said Aurora has been working closely with the conservancy on the project, and emphasized the importance of preserving the canal both for Aurora and the state.
“The High Line Canal is an amazing linear park that connects communities and people to each other and to nature,” said Young, a member of the High Line Conservancy Board since 2014. “In many neighborhoods, the canal shaped Aurora’s community, providing access to schools, parks and homes built along its length.”
Regionally, the canal connects more than 8,000 acres of other open space. According to the High Line Canal Conservancy, more than 500,000 people use the canal each year.
Jones said, after the final planning meetings are conducted in October, the nonprofit will create final planning documents for the High Line Canal. She said those could possibly be completed by the end of this year or early next year.
The next of the conservancy’s planning process meetings in Aurora will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Dry Dock Brewery, 2801 Tower Road in Aurora. Visit https://highlinecanal.org/ for the full schedule.