It’s one of metro Denver’s recreational jewels.
The 66-mile long High Line Canal was originally built in the 1880s for irrigation purposes. It was initially 71 miles long.
Denver Water, which owns the canal, serves 30 customers. Fairmont Cemetery is the one farthest down the line.
While the canal may not carry as much water these days, the adjoining tree-lined path is often packed with people riding bikes, jogging or walking in the shade.
The High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect, preserve and enhance the legacy canal, estimates that a half million people use the canal’s path system for recreational purposes every year.
“The trees are very important,” said bike rider Jodi Escalante. “I like to come here on 90-degree days when it’s really sunny. The shade and the gravel keep everything a little cooler.”
Escalante added that the nearby Cherry Creek path is often blazing hot in the sun.
But there are questions about how much longer the shade trees, many of them Cottonwoods, might last.
“They’re all over 100 years old,” said Dave Lorenz, a Conservancy board member.
Lorenz told Denver7 that there is an issue with water.
He said Denver Water routinely sent water downstream as far as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal until a few years ago.
Now water shipments are more infrequent.
Some bike riders, like Skye Soulsby, don’t mind the drier conditions.
“It’s nice that it doesn’t have water because that means fewer bugs,” she said. “It always had those gnats and they drive you crazy.”
But Lorenz says water is critical.
“If they quit using water in the canal, that’s going to change the use,” he said. “If it doesn’t have water, how do you maintain the trees?”
He said once the trees die out, they would have to be replaced and added that young trees need frequent watering.
Lorenz said a Conservancy study group is looking at options.
“We’re working with Urban Drainage and Flood Control to see if some rain run-off could be channeled into the canal,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about that, because how many storms do we have in Colorado where we have sufficient run-off that goes in the canal?”
Lorenz said his second concern is that “Under Colorado law, the water has to be released in 72 hours.”
Lorenz said if the canal ends up dry, then they discuss whether to use the canal as a walking path, while leaving the trail for bikes.
"There may be other options," he said.
Governor wants your input
On Tuesday, Governor John Hickenlooper, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and several other dignitaries will begin seeking public input on the future of the canal and path system.
At 12:05 p.m., the Governor will talk about the importance of the trail and the goal to “ensure that within a generation, every Coloradan will live within ten minutes of a park, trail or vibrant green space.”
After his remarks, the Governor will go on a bike ride with children, to highlight the future of the trail corridor.
High Line Canal
The entire 71-mile-long trail spans several jurisdictions.
Lorenz told Denver7 that he’d like to see it brought under one jurisdiction for maintenance purposes.
Some sections of the trail are paved with concrete, some with asphalt, and others, like the 19 miles in the South Suburban Recreational District, are just hard-packed gravel.
Many bike riders like it that way.
“You don’t have the high-speed road bikes,” on the gravel sections, which have to be shared with pedestrians, people walking dogs or pushing strollers,” Escalante said.
“Most of the people I’ve spoken with want it to remain gravel,” Lorenz said.
Soulsby told Denver7 she’d like to see some improvements at some busy intersections.
“It would be nice if they had more underpasses or overpasses,” she said, “so you could kind of keep going instead of getting stuck in traffic.”
She mentioned the East Yale Avenue/South Holly Street intersection which is choked with constant traffic.
Lorenz said the work group is studying several intersections and looking for possible fixes.
To learn more about the Conservancy and the upcoming planning initiative, click on this link: http://highlinecanal.org/