Rocky Mountain Arsenal – From Chemical Manufacturing to National Wildlife Refuge!
History of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal
Located north of Denver on nearly 16,000 acres, is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA). The property was once a rural farming community. However, the farms were bought out and the arsenal was built in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor during WWII. It’s location within the interior portion of the United States, was ideal. The main focus of the RMA was to manufacture military chemical weapons. Private industry leased and produced industrial chemicals here after the war ended.
The US Army and private industry used acceptable disposal practices at the time. However, chemical and agricultural production resulted in environmental contamination of some of the soil, structures and groundwater at the site. In 1982 all production stopped and the Arsenal’s mission changed to environmental cleanup and restoration. The site was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List (Superfund) in 1987.
During one of the early cleanup projects, workers discovered a pair of roosting bald eagles at the site. The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) established a field office at RMA as a result. Congress consequently enacted legislation designating the RMA as a future National Wildlife Refuge.
Transfer of property to US Fish & Wildlife Service
The US Army transferred portions of the land to US Fish & Wildlife Service as cleanup activities were completed. The USFWS used the transferred land to create and then expand the RMA National Wildlife Refuge. Today, the Refuge includes 15,000+ acres of restored shortgrass prairie. Surprisingly, the prairie provides habitat to more than 300 species, including American bison, bald eagles, mule and white-tailed deer, burrowing owls, and black-footed ferrets among others.
The U.S. Army will permanently retain and manage about 1,000 acres of land that contains landfills, groundwater treatment facilities, and waste consolidation areas. However, the property that is not retained by the Army is now managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge, located in Commerce City, is just miles from downtown Denver. The visitor center which opened on May 11, 2011 is open Wednesday – Sunday 9am – 4pm (closed on Federal Holidays). It includes an exhibition hall that takes visitors on a journey through the site’s history and showcases the abundance of wildlife at the site. The Discover Room is full of wildlife activities for kids of all ages. Volunteers at the information desk can help you chose a hiking trail or other visitor activities.
Other activities at the Refuge are open every day of the year, including 20 miles of easy hiking and biking trails. One of the most popular activities at the Refuge is the self-guided driving tour. Follow the car and arrow signs along with the trail map to navigate your way. Along the way watch for a variety of wildlife. The driving tour takes about 45 minutes. Be sure to allow enough time for frequent stops. Just remember to remain in your vehicle and don’t forget your binoculars!
Other activities include biking, catch-and-release fishing, a Junior Ranger Program, archery, photography, birding and environmental education. You can plan a full day of activities to keep you and your family and/or guests busy! To learn more and plan your visit click here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/rocky_mountain_arsenal/
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