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Resilient St. Vrain: Restore & Revitalize

This blog shares everything from in-depth articles about the project to interesting photos of work zones. With a project as extensive as Resilient St. Vrain, something is always happening. Follow along as we build a Resilient St. Vrain!

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Wildlife diversity in abundance at Sandstone Ranch Nature Area

by Jennifer Loper02/28/2018 2:17 PM
Updated: 03/02/2018
Large gathering of pelicans on water at Sandstone Reach

Much of the Sandstone Ranch Nature Area has been closed to the public since the September 2013 flood. Flooding in this area resulted in unstable trails, vegetation that was ripped away by floodwaters, a split in the St. Vrain Creek’s path through the area, and crumbling terrain along the creek’s banks. Construction on the Resilient St. Vrain project has addressed and stabilized those issues, and the area is anticipated to reopen to  public visits in late spring.

We sat down recently with Dan Wolford, Land Program Administrator for Public Works & Natural Resources, to learn about changes he’s seen in the nature area since its closure in late 2013 and what residents can expect to encounter after the St. Vrain Greenway trail reopens through the area.

“Abundance” and “diversity” are the key words Wolford used to describe the area today. With little to no public visitation in the area for the past 4½ years, the area has experienced a significant increase in both quantities of wildlife in the area and types of species, Wolford explained. “I recently saw nearly 40 white-tailed deer where I’d previously never seen more than a dozen in the area,” he said, adding that staff and contractors working in the area also have seen wild turkeys, mink, red-tailed hawks, and great horned owls.

Group of white-tailed deer at Sandstone Ranch on wintry day

There’s also been evidence of a bobcat in the area and possible signs of a river otter, Wolford added. And, of course, there are two resident pairs of bald eagles that call the area home. (We are waiting to learn whether either pair has eggs in their nests for this mating season. If eggs have been laid, eaglets could be born later in the spring.) Other birds in the area include the avocet, which makes its nest in sandy areas along the creek bank.

Avocet sitting on nest along St. Vrain Creek

As a result of the flood, the path the St. Vrain Creek follows split into multiple paths, also referred to as a braided or split flow channel. This split flow increased the size of the riparian corridor, which is the wetlands area next to the creek. Wolford explained that this allows more space for waterfowl, such as white pelicans, to visit and live in the nature area. “Where before there may have been a half-dozen white pelicans, now I’m seeing three dozen landing in the area,” he said.

Group of pelicans on water at Sandstone Ranch

Habitat improvements--such as buried riprap and rootwads that were sunk into the ground in the Peschel pond area, located near the County Line Road trailhead--have benefited fish and turtle populations in the area as well.

By the time Resilient St. Vrain work is completely finished, nearly 200,000 new plants will have been added to the area to help nature re-establish itself. Plants and seeds were carefully selected to ensure an enhanced, more diverse vegetation habitat, Wolford explained. “This replanting increased the quantities of woody shrubs and native wildflowers in the area, which helps pollinators.”

Overall, the area will look and feel a little different to those who visited before the flood, Wolford said. The Greenway trail now follows a different configuration, including a longer pedestrian bridge to cross the braided channel. Some areas will be fenced off to protect wildlife habitat, as well as to allow plants and seeds to take hold and grow to maturity.

Pedestrian bridge crossing split channel at Sandstone Ranch

Wolford offers some suggestions for those who visit the area after the Greenway trail reopens.

  • Respect the fences that have been installed. They have been put in place to encourage visitors to stay on the trail and out of wildlife habitat.
  • Be mindful of intruding on wildlife, especially nesting areas. “This area is the animal’s home. It’s like walking into somebody’s house,” Wolford said.
  • Use binoculars or cameras with zoom lenses to view wildlife from the trail. (And if you take some great photos, consider sending to us for sharing on social media!)
  • Per City Ordinance, the Sandstone Ranch Nature Area is a dog-free area to allow wildlife and birds to freely live in their habitat. Please leave your dogs at home while you enjoy the area.
  • Watch for contractors that will be in the area completing planting work. These crews may be in the area as late as fall 2018. Once the trail has been open, there still may be periodic closures for public safety during this work.

Sandstone Ranch Nature Area offers residents and visitors the opportunity to observe wildlife in its native habitat, just a stone’s throw from the heart of the city. With the upcoming reopening of the St. Vrain Greenway trail through the park, the nature area will once again be ready for its moment in the sun.

Watch for announcements via social media posts and City eNotifications when the St. Vrain Greenway trail has re-opened for public use in Sandstone Ranch Nature Area.

All photos courtesy of Dan Wolford, except white-tailed deer photo courtesy Robin Boden.


  1. Updated: 03/02/2018
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