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:
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:
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:
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 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 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.