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 natural character.
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.