New volunteer program helps keep High Line Canal clean

Canal to be improved over course of 10 to 15 years

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/29/21

The 71-mile-long High Line Canal serves as a Denver metro-area getaway that runs through several cities, and community members can help keep it in good shape through a new volunteer program. The …

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New volunteer program helps keep High Line Canal clean

Canal to be improved over course of 10 to 15 years

Posted

The 71-mile-long High Line Canal serves as a Denver metro-area getaway that runs through several cities, and community members can help keep it in good shape through a new volunteer program.

The Canal Conservation Corps offers one-time volunteer events — such as removal of trash, brush and weeds — as well as the chance to become a more-dedicated and trained Corps Leader.

Here are some things to know about the program and how the canal is being reimagined in the long term.

Caring for the canal

The Canal Conservation Corps program officially launched this spring, according to the High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to help enhance and protect the canal.

For about five years, the conservancy has hosted community cleanup events along the canal’s 71 miles, according to Suzanna Fry Jones, an official with the conservancy.

“Care of the canal through volunteer stewardship has been a priority of the conservancy’s for many years, and the CCC formalizes this growing coalition of dedicated canal stewards,” Jones said.

Funding from Great Outdoors Colorado was granted in late 2020 that helped initiate the official launch of the corps program. Great Outdoors Colorado is an entity that invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

The corps program will “measurably improve the canal’s ecosystem” by supporting events such as cleanups, tree plantings and other restoration projects, Jones said.

Looking for leaders

Those who aim for deeper involvement with the canal can become Canal Conservation Corps Leaders, who work with conservancy staff, partners, volunteers and community members to support the conservancy’s on-the-ground programs and events focused on stewardship of the canal.

Corps leaders are trained by conservancy staff and commit to 20 hours of volunteering over a year-long period. Corps leaders assist conservancy staff in hosting volunteer events along the canal. With adequate training, corps leaders are eventually able to lead events independently, Jones said.

Corps leaders may also help promote events and monitor the canal for stormwater flow, trash and debris accumulation, trail safety and more, Jones said.

Currently, corps leaders are primarily volunteers, but there are a few paid opportunities available, possible because of the Great Outdoors Colorado funding, according to Jones, the conservancy’s senior director of programs and partnerships.

Reimagining the canal 

In the coming years, the canal will undergo improvements to better align with its use as a recreational area.

“An extraordinary feat of engineering that is now nearly 140 years old, the canal has historically delivered irrigation water from the foothills to the plains of the Denver metro area,” Jones said. “Fast forward to today: The canal has outlived its historic purpose as an irrigation utility, as it is no longer a sustainable means of delivering water to customers, and has taken on new life as a recreational and ecological resource.”

The conservancy led a planning initiative from 2016 to 2019 with engagement from more than 5,000 community stakeholders that resulted in the Community Vision Plan for the High Line Canal in 2017 and The Plan for the High Line Canal, known as “The Plan” for short, in 2019, according to Jones.

With more than 100 recommended projects to be carried out over 10 to 15 years, The Plan guides the work of the conservancy and the local governments along the canal to carry out improvement projects.

It’s all part of creating “a natural, more connected corridor with improved access, amenities and safety for trail users,” Jones said.

Projects along the trail include enhancements such as new navigational signage, canal-wide initiatives such as tree care, and more significant infrastructure projects such as roadway underpasses and stormwater projects, according to the conservancy’s website.

“We have secured endorsement of The Plan by … governmental partners and Denver Water to advance implementation of The Plan and stewardship of the canal,” Jones said.

The public can see here for a current list of projects and updates.

Water role changing

Today, the canal still delivers water to a small number of irrigation customers but is being “transformed” for a long-term future as a recreational and ecological resource for the region and as a “green infrastructure for stormwater management,” Jones said.

The public can learn more about the canal’s Stormwater Tranformation and Enhancement Program here.  

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