OVERVIEW & REFUGE HISTORY
Located just eleven miles northeast of downtown Denver, the refuge is the largest contiguous open space in the Denver metropolitan area. The site is currently undergoing a major environmental restoration program and will become one of the largest urban national wildlife refuges in the United States.
Prior to World War II, the arsenal was farmland. Settlers began breaking the shortgrass prairie sod, planting trees and crops, and bringing irrigation to the area in the 1880s. In 1942, the U.S. Army bought thirty square miles of farmland to establish Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a chemical weapons factory. Weapons produced here during the war deterred the use of chemical weapons by the Axis Powers and helped achieve victory over Germany and Japan. After WWII, the army leased land to private companies that produced commercial pesticides. During the early Cold War of the 1950’s the Army again produced chemical weapons to counter the Soviet threat.
There were few environmental laws before the 1960s, and chemical production at the Arsenal resulted in contamination of soils and groundwater at the site. In 1986, while investigating the extent of the pollution and ways to clean it up, biologists discovered the Arsenal was home to a large population of wintering bald eagles.
The discovery of eagles made people take note of the extensive and healthy wildlife populations throughout the large buffer zone of the Arsenal. While the industrial core of the site was contaminated, deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, and many species of hawks, owls and other birds thrived in the abandoned fields, grasslands and wood lots that had been protected from forty years of urban sprawl and development.
Last Updated: 3/24/09
Commerce City, Colorado