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Native Areas

view of the large flower gardens in full bloom at Washington Park

Office of the City Naturalist

Denver's natural areas include open space, mountain parks and other parcels of undeveloped land. These areas and their resources are managed by the Office of the City Naturalist, which maintains them as essential refuges for the many plants and animals that call them home. Natural areas are large supporters of health in urban areas, helping filter out pollutants in the environment and improving air and water quality. The Office of the City Naturalist's work includes:

  • Vegetation and noxious weed management
  • Native plant restoration
  • Lake management and water quality
  • Wildlife management

Key Areas of Focus

Natural Areas are 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. Like developed parks, natural areas can be for people and provide many things – a place to sit, walk, watch or listen to wildlife – a place to study and observe all forms of life and their interactions. Natural areas can provide a home to pollinators such as bees and butterflies, wildflowers, and native shrubs and trees. Our goal is to continue to nurture natural areas and adaptively manage them as well balanced sustainable, natural ecosystems or representatives, thereof, as well as to reintroduce natural areas and people’s experience of them into the Denver community. 

The Natural Areas program currently has 5 designated natural areas in Denver:

  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

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 Grass 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.

In coordination with the Urban Drainage Flood Control District (UDFCD) and Public Works Wastewater, the Office of the City Naturalist and the Natural Resource Planner assist in the assessment, prioritization and management of lakes and stream systems in Denver Parks. UDFCD is a special district who partners with the City and County of Denver on many types of floodplain management efforts; including managing stream systems such as Cherry Creek, Lakewood Gulch and Weir Gulch. Their purpose as a special district is “To reduce flood risks by promoting healthy stream systems”. 

Contact Cinceré Eades, Natural Resources Planner at for more information.

Management of Stream Systems

The stream management approach is consistent throughout all communities in Denver. Weed management, debris removal and limited mowing takes place between April and October. Taller grasses may have become noticeable over the last 2-3 years due to the reduction in mowing, however, this allows more native vegetation the opportunity to outgrow undesirable invasive/noxious weeds.  Taller grasses also provide structural integrity to the stream by forming a protective barrier between the flowing water and soil during storm events to reduce damage to bridges, properties and parks.

In addition, healthy streams provide other benefits such as:

  • Reducing pollutants like road oils and fertilizers to make stream water quality safer for play;
  • Reducing speed of water to increase safety to us during storm events;
  • Promoting green and thriving streams to enhance our recreation and outdoor experiences, and;
  • Increasing biodiversity by protecting and restoring native plant communities to support wildlife and create migration corridors.

Additional information on UDFCD can be found at

Landscape Typology will help guide a new park and greenway aesthetic, along with a maintenance approach to move Denver toward data-driven decision making and the establishment of high functioning, low-maintenance ecosystems.

Historically, Denver’s landscape consisted of native, arid prairie and shrubland habitats lined by green waterways that drain from the state’s headwaters. Today, most of these native landscapes have been replaced by resource intensive bluegrass lawns and urbanization. Denver Parks & Recreation (DPR), in partnership with Urban Drainage and Flood Control District (UDFCD), have partnered to re-evaluate the city’s park landscapes to better understand the ecological and human benefits they provide, as well as the financial, environmental, and cultural costs to maintain them.

As highlighted in Denver’s Game Plan for a Healthy City, DPR is committed to providing recreational, resilient, and aesthetically pleasing places for people to participate in active and passive recreation. DPR will continue to restore historic ecosystem services that enhance the health and sustainability of the park system and larger metropolitan area, including practices that will be water-smart and help support continued efforts to improve the health of local rivers and streams. With these considerations in mind, DPR and UDFCD have developed Landscape Typology, a new, holistic, and data-driven approach, which will help streamline park and open space management.

Landscape Typology is designed to capture the range of plant communities present in Denver, from highly anthropogenic (human) park spaces to highly native park spaces. This range or spectrum represents a variety of ecosystem functions, habitat types, park uses, and maintenance needs which may all exist in different areas of the same park.

By evaluating the different landscape types within a park, as well as the park system as a whole, it is possible to streamline maintenance schedules, irrigation needs, restoration projects, and other activities that help keep Denver’s parks and open spaces vibrant.

Landscape Typology supports Denver’s progress on goals established under the guiding principles laid out in Denver’s Game Plan, including:

  • Making the parks system more resilient
  • Managing resources to ensure long-term health of Denver’s parks
  • Providing parks that reflect Denver’s community and cultural identity

Questions? Email

Download the full Landscape Typology Manual (PDF)
Download Appendix (PDF)

Contact Us

Report a problem: or call 311 (720.913.1311)

Office of the City Naturalist
Kelly Uhing, City Naturalist

Annual Events

Purge the Spurge

During this annual event, you can get rid of the highly invasive noxious weed Myrtyle Spurge in exchange for FREE native landscape plants. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018
9:00AM - 12:00PM
Harvard Gulch Park | 888 E. Illiff Ave.

Download the event poster