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Secured: Vision, future of historic High Line Canal

Denver Water transfers 45 miles of the canal to Arapahoe County, permanently protects the greenway.

Editor’s note: This is a collaborative post from Arapahoe County, Denver Water and the High Line Canal Conservancy.

In a groundbreaking move to protect the historic 71-mile High Line Canal, one of the nation’s longest continuous urban trails, Denver Water on Thursday, June 20, announced the transfer of 45 miles of the canal to Arapahoe County

Denver Water also placed a conservation easement on the corridor that will permanently protect the canal as a natural open space for the Denver metro area. 

This visionary action marks the end of a centurylong stewardship by Denver Water and ushers in a new chapter for the historic water delivery system that has become one of the region’s treasured urban trails that meanders through 11 governmental jurisdictions. 

Effective this month, the High Line Canal Conservancy will hold and manage the conservation easement for the 45-mile stretch owned by Arapahoe County.

The easement will ensure the canal trail will forever be maintained as a public linear open space park while also protecting the canal's unique conservation values. These values include preserving the natural environmental beauty and public recreational benefits of the greenway as well as preventing future development and continuing stormwater management and public utility uses. 

The collaborative agreement between Arapahoe County, Denver Water and the High Line Canal Conservancy marks a significant advancement toward the community vision to honor, enhance and repurpose the 71-mile irrigation canal into one of the region’s premier green spaces that connects neighborhoods, people and nature.

“This historic milestone represents a major step forward in the ongoing transformation of the High Line Canal,” said Tom Roode, chief operations and maintenance officer at Denver Water. “This very positive evolution of the canal reflects Denver Water’s mission to advance public health and water conservation while ensuring the canal is protected for generations to come.”

Representatives from Arapahoe County, Denver Water and High Line Canal Conservancy planted a tree to celebrate the event. Left to right: High Line Canal Conservancy Board Chair Paula Herzmark; Director of Arapahoe County Open Spaces Gini Pingenot; Denver Water CEO/Manager Alan Salazar; Denver Water Chief of Operations and Maintenance Tom Roode; Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully and Harriet Crittenden LaMair, the CEO of High Line Canal Conservancy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

While Denver Water is transferring ownership of more than half of the canal to Arapahoe County, the water provider will continue to own nearly 20 miles of the canal during the transformation process. Maintenance of the corridor will be a collaboration between Denver Water, the counties along the corridor, local jurisdictions and the conservancy.

“For decades, the High Line Canal has been an important and well-used recreational asset for Arapahoe County residents, making this ownership transfer a natural fit for our open spaces, parks and trails portfolio,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner and Board Chair Carrie Warren-Gully. 

“Our work to preserve natural and legacy spaces will be greatly expanded through the conservation easement, ensuring the greenway remains a treasured asset for generations.” 

Trail users will not see a dramatic difference from the ownership change. However, over time, care for the natural resources will improve under county ownership. The High Line Canal trail will always remain free to use for hiking, biking, horseback riding and enjoying the outdoors. Under the changes, the High Line Canal Conservancy will continue to be a central point of contact for any inquiries. 

Members of the Canal Collaborative stand along the High Line Canal trail to celebrate the land transfer to Arapahoe County and the new Conservation Easement. The group includes members from 11 jurisdictions along the canal that will continue working together the support, maintain and enhance the corridor. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“Denver Water’s protection of the High Line Canal through a conservation easement demonstrates tremendous foresight and partnership. The easement is a lasting gift that will forever improve the quality of life in the Denver region for the hundreds of thousands of people who use the canal today and for generations to come,” said Harriet Crittenden LaMair, CEO of the High Line Canal Conservancy. 

“All of us at the High Line Canal Conservancy, including our board, staff and volunteers, are so honored to accept this responsibility.” 

The conservancy, Denver Water and Arapahoe County, in collaboration with local governments, spent years completing a comprehensive plan that recommends investments and management changes to support the long-term transition of the canal from a water delivery system to a protected, regional open space and trail with multiple environmental and recreational benefits. 

“Denverites already know the High Line Canal as one of the best places to run, hike and bike. The work being done here will ensure future generations know it, as well,” said Denver Mayor Mike Johnston. 

Jolon Clark, executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation, said “With over a million users each year, the High Line Canal is a vital part of our parks and trail system within the City and County of Denver. For decades we have been deeply engaged and have invested in the preservation and enhancement of the High Line Canal. We look forward to fostering our partnerships to ensure that the High Line Canal remains a cherished recreational and natural resource for Denver residents.”

Future funding

The long-term protection of the canal will require ongoing public and private funding. The High Line Canal Conservancy is working toward that as the nonprofit organization nears the close of its transformational Great Lengths for the High Line, a $33 million campaign that is leveraging public funding for a total investment of $100 million for the canal over five years. 

“We are thrilled with the incredible support the Great Lengths campaign has received from across the region, including a generous $10 million investment from Denver Water and $7 million from Great Outdoors Colorado,” said Paula Herzmark, board chair of the High Line Canal Conservancy. 

“With the new ownership and conservation easement in place, Arapahoe County, the High Line Canal Conservancy and Denver Water have collectively secured the canal’s future. This ensures that it will be here as an essential natural open space that is free and accessible to the public forever.” 

Great Outdoors Colorado also provided funding to the Conservancy to support the creation of the conservation easement, which includes a present-conditions report and the establishment of an endowment that will support ongoing monitoring and enforcement of the easement.

Watch the full press conference here: