Changing the Channel

A bike ride on the High Line Canal.
Photo by Jill Kaplan

Life in the south metro area would be incomplete without the High Line Canal. We hear it often: Once you make a home surrounded by the channel and its adventure-friendly trail, it becomes incomprehensible to imagine a day without it.

No one understands that interconnectedness quite like Harriet Crittenden LaMair.

About twenty-two years ago, the Cherry Hills Village resident and former Cherry Hills Village councilwoman was strolling along her favorite stretch of the canal behind her home when, suddenly, she felt a contraction. Pregnant with her third child, LaMair went into labor right there on the trail.

Nearly two decades later, in 2014, she became the executive director and, in 2018, a founding partner of the High Line Canal Conservancy, the group that has been working to preserve, protect and enhance the legacy of the High Line Canal for people to enjoy now and in the future.

It’s a big job to sign up for, to be sure: In case you lost count, the canal is a whopping 71 miles long.

You have likely heard the story from neighbors, if you weren’t in on the action yourself: A group of citizens got the idea for the nonprofit when Denver Water (which currently owns and operates the canal) recognized the canal was outliving its historic purpose as an irrigation channel and had taken on new life as a recreational amenity. A conservancy, these residents decided, could do more for the canal than any one governmental agency.

The group has been making a name for the Conservancy and the canal since, and they aren’t done yet. In 2017, in partnership with Denver Water and with the support from each of the 11 jurisdictions along the canal, the Conservancy released a plan—a Community Vision Plan—to revitalize the canal based on input and guidance from members of the community who treasure the canal most.

More than 3,500 of us chimed in on the creation of the plan, also known as phase one. Phase two, the Framework Plan, where update and upkeep ideas are put in to action, is anticipated to be completed this year.

“I think this is one of the most important greenway projects in the country right now,” says fellow Conservancy board member and Cherry Hills Village resident Kathy Tyree, who moved here from Manhattan and previously worked with the Central Park Conservancy. She is also a High Line Hero, what the Conservancy calls all members. “The High Line Canal is bigger than Central Park. That’s the magnitude and importance of this project.”

There are four objectives in the Framework Plan. Three projects are getting things started.

New mile-markers and signage will be erected along the trail as soon as the end of this year. The Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Project (STEP)—in partnership with Denver Water, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and the jurisdictions along the canal—will start this fall. It is designed to improve water and air quality, decrease flooding, grow wildlife habitats, improve health and livability for the communities along the canal and more.

And, next month, you’ll be able to get your hands on an updated map focused on helping trail-goers explore everything the canal’s footpath has to offer. “The new Guide to the High Line Canal has something for everyone,” says Suzanna Fry Jones, director of marketing and community outreach. “Walkers, bikers, joggers and nature-seekers alike will find it full of tips and tidbits to discovering the canal trail beyond their backyard. The user-friendly tool will highlight the deep history and rich and varied ecology of the region.”

A historical photo of the High Line Canal.
“What you do with the ditch after Denver Water stops the irrigation water is the part of this project that fascinates me. I’m passionate about how we can change that ditch into an integral part of stormwater management in the metro area.” —High Line Hero and Conservancy board member Graham Hollis on his excitement about STEP. Courtesy Denver Public Library

The trail—which, aside from moving along childbirth, also works well for walking, nature viewing, bicycling, hiking, horseback riding and picnicking—extends from Waterton Canyon to Green Valley Ranch, meandering through South Suburban, Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills Village parks along the way. “It weaves through so many neighborhoods in such a completely unexpected way,” says Meredith Wenskoski, president and founder of Livable Cities Studio and project manager for the Conservancy’s Framework Plan.

And LaMair is just the person to lead the way. Yes, she made it from the canal to the hospital in time to give birth to her daughter Kate, now 21. Kate is a college senior studying psychology with a focus on nature therapy. LaMair’s middle son, Davis, is a fly-fishing guide in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and her eldest, Edwin, is majoring in environmental law. Are you sensing a theme here?

LaMair instilled a love and passion for nature and the environment in her children. As director of the Conservancy, her mission is to instill that same love and passion for the High Line Canal in Coloradans. “There are sections of the canal that were filled in with dirt [and had no access to running water], sections that were sold off and sections being totally ignored to the point where you couldn’t even make your way through to the next portion,” says LaMair. “Those things triggered the need to really step forward to preserve the canal. Now, the Conservancy will provide that protection in perpetuity.”

A bird on the High Line Canal.
Courtesy Dick Vogel, Denver Audubon Volunteer

Watch and listen closely on your next stroll along the canal trail. Word has it that the bird-watching is stellar. Here, just a few of the species to keep an eye out for both year-round and during the migratory season (which varies by type of bird).

Golden Eagle (particularly in and around the Waterton Canyon piece)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Flicker
Great Horned Owl
Cedar Waxwing

Starting in mid-April: Say’s Phoebe. 
Starting in mid-May: Western Kingbird, Western Tanager, Broad-tailed Hummingbird and House Wren.

Compiled by Kate Hogan from Denver Audubon

The High Line Canal Conservancy and Walk2Connect are hosting another series of 14 community walks along every section of the High Line Canal trail this summer and into fall. The first three “segments” took place in June, but the rest of the schedule still includes two full-moon jaunts (and two built-in makeup days in the event of bad weather).

July 12, 7:30 A.M. Segment 11
DeLaney Farm and Creeks of Aurora
6.5 miles

July 19, 7:30 A.M. Segment 10 
Expo Park to Cherry Creek
5.8 miles

July 26, 7:30 A.M. Segment 9
Cherry Creek to Eisenhower Park
6.75 miles

Aug. 2, 7:30 A.M. Segment 8
Beautiful Cherry Hills
8 miles

Aug. 9, 7:30 A.M. 
Weather Makeup Day

Aug. 16, 7:30 P.M. Segment 7
Full Moon in Greenwood Village
5 miles

Sept. 6, 7:30 A.M. Segment 6
Amble through Littleton
5 miles

Sept. 13, 6:30 P.M. Segment 5
Full Moon in Littleton
5 miles

Sept. 20, 7:30 A.M.  Segment 4
Fly’n B Highlands Ranch
6 miles

Sept. 27, 7:30 A.M.  Segment 3
Down and Back Plum Creek
4 miles

Oct. 4, 7:30 A.M. Segment 2
5.5 miles

Oct. 5, 7:30 A.M.
Weather Makeup Day

Oct. 11, 7:30 A.M. Segment 1
Beginning of the Canal at Waterton Canyon