The Community Vision Plan for the High Line
Canal is a forward-looking vision to preserve and enhance a beloved regional
greenway in Colorado’s Front Range. The High Line Canal extends 71 miles from
the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains to the expansive prairie. Bringing
together thousands of residents from all over the region, this initiative
inspired participants to think big about their vision for the Canal’s future. Dug by hand in the late 1800s, the Canal was originally
constructed as an irrigation ditch to bring South Platte River water to
surrounding farmlands. Today, the Canal still serves as a water delivery method
for a fraction of its original water users but has transformed into an
increasingly recreational resource. More than 500,000 people use the Canal each
year for walking, running, bicycling, and horseback riding. Today, as the
Denver region experiences unprecedented growth in numbers and in diversity, and
as water is an increasingly limited, precious resource; the High Line Canal is
a prime example of how we, as responsible stewards, must look at the future
differently than the past.
Water is the number one issue facing the Canal. The Canal is
beloved as a peaceful retreat—a place to enjoy a quiet moment in a natural
setting. Yet, this natural character relies on the manmade Canal to provide
water to sustain the ecosystem. The availability of water via the Canal is
increasingly limited due to the region’s water context and changing climate,
junior water rights, a declining number of customers, and the high rates of
evaporation and seepage of the Canal. With more than 70% of water evaporating
or seeping out before it reaches a paying customer, the Canal is not a responsible
way to deliver water in today’s era of water conservation. The vision plan
explores opportunities for new forms of stewardship to preserve the Canal’s
Bringing together more than 3,500 community members, as well as more
than 40 stakeholders, elected officials, and city planning staff, the process
framed the Community Vision Plan as a forward-looking story of the Canal’s
future. “Adventure on the High Line Canal”—branded to express a spirit of
journey and an ambition to write a powerful forward-looking story—was a
diverse, fun series of forums for public engagement.
Built on this diverse feedback, the plan identifies
opportunities for preserving the Canal’s character, strategies for celebrating
the different experiences along the Canal, and ideas for continued
collaborations with communities, partner organizations, and governmental
agencies. The process also revealed great interest in exploring the
opportunities of stormwater as a benefit for the surrounding areas, preserving
the Canal’s natural character for future generations to enjoy.
Focusing on storytelling
was integral to the success of this plan. Just as every great story is a
journey that sparks imagination and excites the mind, the vision process
illuminated a series of powerful ideas about the future of a great resource. Importantly, the
inclusive process led to a shared vision—marking the first time that all
jurisdictions have endorsed a common vision to guide the Canal’s future.
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