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Denver is digging up lost rivers buried during Industrial Revolution, reviving 'natural order'

$300M initiative to restore natural space
Posted: 4:57 PM, Sep 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-20 13:38:07-04

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DENVER — Despite Colorado’s rapid growth, there’s a renewed effort to turn back the clocks and correct some mistakes of the past.

"It's difficult to do this because Denver is built out; it's an urban environment," said Bruce Uhernik, stormwater engineer for Denver Public Works.

Patrick Riley, project engineer for Denver Public Works, said there is a certain beauty to reviving the "natural order."

Those city leaders are talking about an effort to literally dig up buried rivers and creeks beneath Denver.

"This is a very cool project,” Uhernik said. “It's unlike anything we've ever done.”

The idea is to undo mistakes of the past and bring back rivers and creeks that were buried decades ago.

"This is the biggest project Denver Public Works has ever taken on," Uhernik said.

The first link of the first unearthing project is happening right now. It’s called the Montclair Creek Project. A nearly $300 million "daylighted" river that partially snakes through City Park Golf Course, down 39th Avenue and eventually spilling out west of the Denver Coliseum.

“This used to be nothing,” Uhernik said. “It was part of the Coliseum parking lot.”

It’s now a greenway complete with a huge new park, climbing wall and playground where the stream empties into the South Platte.

"We're going for something that can be activated and really used by the neighborhoods in the area," Riley said.

It's all part of a voter-approved green initiative — daylighting of old waterways that were forced into pipes and buried during the industrial revolution in favor or streets, railroads and homes.

"Because growth and sprawl were more important than drainage and safety back then," Uhernik said.

The restoration of natural landscape has many benefits. It slows down water, filters it through vegetation to remove contaminants and better controls storm runoff.

"It’s more resilient," Uhernik said. "We can keep shoving water into pipes and forcing it to the river as quickly as possible, but what good does that do anyone? By restoring waterways, you can put trails on them... It's somewhere that people want to go to and be."

And the Montclair basin is just the beginning. It’s only nine square miles of unearthing.

“The city of Denver is 100 square miles total, so there are needs elsewhere, as well,” Uhernik said.

Transforming the city from gray to green one neighborhood at a time.

"We're getting to do right where it had been wronged before," Riley said. “These will be areas where people can stop, stay and spend some time in – rather than pass through as quickly as possible.”