Interesting Article about the Greenway

January 27, 2014

The opening of Denver’s new international airport was a turnaround moment for this city that had been locked in an industrial past      

By Mark Samuelson

Feb. 27, 1995, was a game-changing moment for Commerce City, the 26-square-mile city that follows the Platte River downstream north from the city of Denver.  That was the evening when hundreds of jetliners made their last takeoffs from old Stapleton International Airport, some of them headed fifteen miles northeast to DIA, set to open the following morning – none of them ever to return to Stapleton.  The old airport, which had seen 30 million passengers a year pass through in previous years, sixth largest airport in the U.S., lay inside Denver, but its takeoff and landing patterns were one more downside discouraging residential development in a city that had always been dominated by commercial and industrial uses.

That was true from Denver’s earliest days, when the land north of town attracted cemeteries, followed by foundries, smelters, and other mining industries that relied on water from the river for industrial processes or waste disposal.  The precedent stuck with the city into the next century when the river became lined with oil-and-gas refineries, and as rail lines and new highways following its banks drew trucking firms and warehouses.  Commerce City saw residential development, too – but nothing to match the attractive areas arriving south and east Denver, and to Jefferson County.

However, residents stuck with their identity, deliberately voting to stay in Adams County, outside the city of Denver.  They incorporated in 1962, and reaffirmed their choices in later votes.  Meanwhile, long anticipated plans for the new airport and for closing the U.S. Army’s 17,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal north of the runways, were shaping Commerce City’s future.  Aside from the airport infrastructure itself, plans pushed the arrival and departure patterns far to the east to provide noise relief for Adams County residents.  At a time when Denver was fast losing its developable lands south and west of the city, the realignment was opening huge tracts north of 96th Avenue that would be easily accessible via either I-76, or the new DIA freeway (Peña Boulevard), or the E470 Beltway that was being completed around the metro area’s northeastern edge.  Denver was sporting new sports and entertainment attractions – Coors Field and a new stadium for the Denver Broncos, nightlife in LoDo, a huge performing arts center – that were making even residents who prefer suburban to urban living want to be close to downtown, and the relative access of new Commerce City neighborhoods would become a selling point for builders.

Now Commerce City is 20 years past the opening of DIA, seeing its population more than double over the past decade, as homebuilders focus building east of the Platte, close to the newly created Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (where buffalo now roam, along with other Colorado plains fauna).  Practically all of the new home and townhome opportunities your Colorado Home Finder agent will show you are attractively priced compared to other metro areas – but have access to attractions that arrived in the wake of the airport’s departure, including Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on a 917-acre site north of the old runways, with an 18,000-seat home stadium for the Colorado Rapids soccer team and other events; along with new city offices.  Commerce City residents also find new shopping at Shops at Northfield Stapleton, just across the Denver line on the old airport site, with dining/theater options in an outdoor ‘main street’ style layout.

New communities along E. 104th and E. 120th Avenue, including Shea Homes’ master planned Reunion development at Buckley and E. 120th, are now attracting their own infrastructure including newer schools and grocery shopping.  You have to have lived in the area a very long time to remember the sound of jets passing over – they’re now well to the east.

Meanwhile, Commerce City is still home of refiner Suncor and other large industries along the river – but those have showed a good-citizen side after the closing of the old runways led to development of new trails along the river.  With substantial support from those corporate citizens, Commerce City (along with Denver and Aurora) now boasts the Sand Creek Greenway – a 14-mile trail corridor that begins along Sand Creek’s confluence with the Platte, wraps the creek’s banks east to the old airport, passing newly created wildlife parks on its way east to Aurora.  New trails, meanwhile, are pushing north into the arsenal refuge, and beyond.  In Commerce City, where you could once see Boeings fly over at low altitude, you can now see bald eagles doing the same.

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Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership

About the Greenway

The Sand Creek Regional Greenway is a jewel in the necklace of trails that has made Denver a national model for linked trail systems.

This 14-mile public greenway connects the High Line Canal in Aurora, Colorado with the South Platte River Greenway in Commerce City. Along the way, it passes through northeast Denver and the new Stapleton community.

The Sand Creek Regional Greenway is open every day from dawn until dusk. Runners, walkers, nature viewers, horseback riders, and leashed dogs are encouraged to enjoy the trail. We invite you to become acquainted with our wilderness in the city.


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