In Denver, 'the river is for everybody'

Residents, teachers talk about enjoyment of South Platte as urban nature


After this seaon’s large amount of snowfall in the mountains, Ronnie Crawford is hoping the snowpack will melt off in just the right way to speed up the South Platte River and fill the banks a little more. If he wants to host the neighborhood tube float next month, conditions need to be just right.

“I really can’t say enough about the tubing thing,” Crawford said. “Nobody frowns about going tubing on the river.”

Crawford is known to friends as the “River Guy” because of his work with Denver Trout Unlimited, a local branch of the national nonprofit that works on conservation of streams and other waterways. He also belongs to the Overland Park Neighborhood Association and Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation. In the latter two groups, Crawford often works on park space in Denver, particularly if it involves the South Platte.

The reason is simple, he said: “The river is for everybody.”

Along with Crawford’s neighborhood tube float, Denver Trout Unlimited and The Greenway Foundation, a nonprofit focused on the South Platte River, are hoping to spread that mantra through a number of projects that connect people to the river.

Denver Trout Unlimited concentrates on a small section of the river, which flows about 30 miles through Denver after coursing through the Littleton area, Crawford said. The organization raises money for different river projects, such as a feasibility study near the Carson Nature Center in Littleton several years ago. The study led to Littleton and Arapahoe County working to change the flow of the river, which helped improve quality of life for animals and for people using the South Platte for recreation, Crawford said.

“It’s very fishable now,” he said.

The organization also helped a teacher at Bromwell Elementary School in the Cherry Creek neighborhood launch a program where students hatched trout from eggs and watched them grow into young fish. Later this month, third-grade teacher Todd Johnson and his students will take a field trip to the Carson Nature Center to release their fish.

This is Johnson’s first year having students care for trout. The students have between 60 and 70 trout in tanks in their classroom.

“If anything happens, they’re glued to the tank,” Johnson said of his students. “It’s pretty entertaining.”

The students received the eggs in October. Next year, Johnson said he might start the program earlier so that students have more time with the fish in the classroom.

The program is an opportunity to teach students about ecology and how things survive in Denver’s local river, Johnson said. The field trip will also include spending some time exploring the river and seeing what types of wildlife students can find that day because he wants his students to learn about the nature in their backyard.

The goal is that they become stewards of the land, he said. “We, as humans, can control what’s going on in our backyard.”

Like Johnson, Bekky Harkins, camp director with The Greenway Foundation, sees the South Platte as a teaching tool, as well as a place for fun.

The Greenway Foundation offers 10 weeks of summer camp at two locations, one on Cherry Creek near Confluence Park in north Denver and the other at Johnson-Habitat Park near East Alameda Avenue and South Santa Fe Drive. Parents can sign their kids up for one week at a time or for multiple weeks, Harkins said. Kids learn about conservation and ecology through gold-panning activities, as well as games like predator-and-prey tag.

“The best part is sometimes the kids don’t even realize they’re learning,” Harkins said. “They start to discover and they start to learn about what is here.”

Finding a place of nature in the Denver urban environment is special, Harkins said. And Greenway’s camps are an opportunity to teach students about conservation, but also about how to enjoy nature and the world around them.

“There is nature in the city, you don’t have to go away to find it,” she said. “Getting that green time is healthy for everyone’s minds and bodies, especially young growing ones.”

Crawford agrees.

During his last float trip two summers ago, neighbors showed up to Crawford’s house at 7 a.m. They filled 19 tubes with air and headed to the light rail. The group got into the Platte at the Carson Nature Center and drifted back toward the Overland neighborhood.

The river was low that year, and the water was moving at a slow 250 cubic feet per second and the float trip took longer than expected. But the group still had a great time.

“The traffic and everything is white noise — you don’t notice it when you’re on the river,” Crawford said. “I just smile thinking about it.”


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