Native Landscape Management

Parkfield Lake Natural Area in the springtime

Denver's native landscapes include parks, open space, designated natural areas, mountain parks and other parcels of undeveloped land. These areas and their resources are essential habitats for the many plants and animals that call them home. Native landscapes are large supporters of environmental and human health in urban areas by improving air and water quality. 

Fire Mitigation in Urban Parks & Open Spaces

The Marshall Fire in Boulder County has become the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses and burning over 6,000 acres. Although the cause of the fire remains unknown, several uncontrollable factors contributed to the spread of the fire including wind gusts up to 120-mph and a prolonged lack of moisture.  

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) continually reviews technical research and open space management practices in the front range region. According to the Colorado State Forest Service, the majority of Denver is rated as “Low” to “No Risk” for Wildland-Urban Interface fires.  DPR has re-evaluated the open space management practices for the urban park system and confirmed, at this time, no changes are required regarding our current workplan and mowing procedures.

Fire Mitigation Efforts

Below are fire mitigation efforts managed through DPR:

  • Maintain healthy native grasses, that are not mowed frequently to benefit open spaces and mitigate the potential of fires. Taller grasses hold moisture in the soils that keep plants from becoming dry earlier in the season, reducing fire danger in open spaces. If mowing occurs in open spaces, invasive species will encroach into an area and may have a high tendency to catch fire, making open space more vulnerable to fire.
  • Enforce fire restrictions and fire bans within parks and open space with an emphasis during high wind advisories and periods of drought
  • Provide education and outreach to residents on best ecological practices for landscape management
  • Proactively research and evaluate the best management practices to maintain a healthy ecosystem while mitigating fire risks
  • Maintain mowing management techniques to manage noxious weed species

DPR allows homeowners to mow tall vegetation on park-maintained property 3-feet from property owners fence line as a fire mitigation buffer zone. Vegetation must be mowed with the highest setting on the mower and no shorter than 6-inches. Mowing can only take place adjacent to the homeowner’s property boundary.

Property Owner Resources

Additionally, the following resources will assist with fire mitigation on private property:

Designated Natural Areas

Denver Parks and Recreation has five designated natural areas that are managed as special portions of open, undeveloped land that can provide beauty and comfort to the community. They tell us about the history of the land and region, its landscape, geology, and people.

  1. Parkfield
  2. Inspiration Point
  3. Heron Pond
  4. Camp Rollandet
  5. Paul A. Hentzell

These natural areas were chosen for designation due to their native vegetation, wildlife habitat and community connections. Natural areas designations go through public review and are ultimately approved by the Parks & Recreation Manager.

Additional criteria are required of a site to become designated including:

  • Provides or could provide protection for a sustainable natural ecosystem, wildlife habitat, native plant species and communities, geological formations, or water corridors or wetlands
  • Serves as an example of a rare or unique native condition in an urban setting in need of ecological preservation
  • Serves as an outdoor classroom or laboratory for scientific study or other educational opportunities for the public
  • Functions as an area of biological diversity, natural beauty, and inspiration which meets aesthetic needs, and which enriches the meaning and enjoyment of human life

Things to know:

  • Stay on the designated trails
  • Properly dispose of all trash in a receptacle or pack it out
  • Do not remove any vegetation or pick flowers
  • Dogs must be on-leash at all times
  • Always pickup after your pet
  • Enjoy the natural landscape and wildlife views

Noxious Weeds & Native Vegetation Management

Denver Parks and Recreation manages many native landscapes and open spaces throughout the City and County of Denver. These native spaces you experience throughout your community serve many valuable roles in the health of our City. Native Landscapes and open space provide refuge for wildlife, bird nesting areas, and opportunities for nature play. The management of native species helps the meet the City’s goals to conserve water, provide water quality opportunities, and preserve the historic prairie landscape in which Denver was founded.

Noxious Weeds

Noxious Weeds are non-native plants that threaten our native landscapes and open spaces by disrupting ecosystems. Their presence affects our waterways, wildlife, and recreation. They come to Colorado as seeds in ornamental planting mixes, as nursery stock, or as hitch-hikers on the undercarriage of vehicles. They have been transported from places as far away as Europe, Asia, or Africa and their natural controls, such as insects or diseases, did not arrive with them. Many of them may still be sold in local nurseries for planting in ornamental landscapes.

The Office of the City Naturalist aggressively manages noxious weed infestations within urban Natural Areas, native landscapes and open spaces, as well as in Denver Mountain Parks.

Management efforts lead to significantly reduced noxious weed populations which then allows for Colorado’s native plant species to thrive and provide biodiversity.

We also work to comply with the Colorado Noxious Weed Act which helps us prioritize our management efforts. Noxious weeds are often a symptom of broader ecological or land management issues. By better understanding how natural and man-made disturbances contribute to the introduction and spread of noxious weeds, we will be able to preserve and protect our Denver Parks.

Native Landscape Management

Native grasses provide food and shelter for Colorado’s wildlife and are the foundation of our natural ecosystems. Restoring and protecting native grass habitat is vital to preserving biodiversity which is the variety of life found in an ecosystem. The Office of the City Naturalist uses an Adaptive Management approach when it comes to protecting and enhancing our native grass populations. This approach focuses on monitoring and evaluation which helps us to improve our management decisions and helps us to evaluate if we are meeting our short-term and long-term natural resource goals. Components of our management plans include removal of competition to native grasses. This comes in the form invasive vegetation and noxious weeds which outcompete our native plants for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. Selective mowing is incorporated into native grass management as well in order to maintain healthy populations. Timing is critical and mowing will take place once every year or two years after establishment.

Learn more about DPR's Integrated Pest Management program.