Feature

Coming Together for Healthy People and Places in Metro Denver

Dana Coelho
Rocky Mountain Region, U.S. Forest Service
July 19th, 2017 at 1:30PM

A photo of Metro Denver Nature Alliance partners collecting native seeds with Denver area fourth graders.
Metro Denver Nature Alliance partners—the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Americas for Conservation + the Arts—celebrate National Public Lands Day by collecting native seeds with Denver area fourth graders. (Photo credit: Dana Coelho)

The Metro Denver Area – seven counties along Colorado’s Front Range – is full of nature and people, and growing rapidly. Consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing regions in the nation, Metro Denver is home to just over 3 million people. By 2020 the region’s population should crown 3.3 million, attracting millennials, our future workforce, in droves.

As growth continues, how do we – as neighbors and partners – engage to keep the region’s beloved open spaces and natural areas intact, connected, and providing benefits to residents and visitors? To date, the conservation and addition of natural amenities – open spaces, urban parks, trails, community gardens, river corridors – have not kept pace with the needs of a rapidly growing population. Denver now ranks below the national median in this indicator of access to nature and is seeing socioeconomic and racial-ethnic disparities in access to nature.

We come together! The Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region has joined forces with other organizations and agencies to create the Metro Denver Nature Alliance (Metro DNA), a partnership committed to the vision of a thriving region that promotes healthy people, communities, and natural places. By enhancing and bringing together efforts to invest in, steward, and engage people with nature, we believe that this coordinated network of partners can achieve far more than any of us alone.

A get outdoors Colorado volunteer helping a little girl on a bicycle
Teaching kids how to recreate responsibly and enjoy nearby nature is a key component of Denver’s annual National Get Outdoors Day event. (Photo credit: Get Outdoors Colorado)

One of the most important things we are working on is making connections, not only among organizations and communities, but in our physical network of green space. Statewide organizations like Great Outdoors Colorado and the Trust for Public Land have begun the hard work of mapping the regional network of parks, open spaces, and trails and funding projects to fill the gaps in our infrastructure. Connected regional partnerships like the South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership, co-hosted by the Forest Service and EPA, are taking the next steps to understand and communicate the value of nature across the region so even more projects can strategically fill gaps and make the biggest difference to our environment and communities.

Through this work and other investments, we are staying on focused on the health of people and nature in the Metro Denver Area, equitable access to nature, and resilience in the face of continued environmental and demographic change. What’s the Forest Service got to do with it? Acting as a neutral facilitator, technical advisor, and supporter of strategic on-the-ground projects. What’s nature got to do with it? Everything.