The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) was established in 2007 and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).
This 5,000-acre Refuge has striking vistas of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and rolling prairie grasslands, woodlands and wetlands. It is home to 239 migratory and resident wildlife species, including the prairie falcons, deer, elk, coyotes, songbirds, and the federally threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.
Large areas of the Refuge have remained relatively undisturbed for the last 30 to 50 years resulting in diverse habitat and wildlife. A portion of the Refuge contains rare xeric tallgrass prairie, providing habitat for a variety of wildlife and serving as an important natural and conservation resource.
The Refuge is located 16 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, and is bordered by Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties. The site is surrounded by urban development to the northeast and southeast, and expansive open space to the north, east and west, providing a protected corridor for migrating wildlife.
The Refuge’s purpose is to restore and preserve native ecosystems, which will in turn provide habitat for migratory and resident wildlife. Specific habitat management practices for the federally threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse will not only benefit this species but other species depend on riparian and wetland habitat for survival. In the future, the Refuge will provide environmental education, nature programs, and wildlife-focused visitor opportunities.
Guided by the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan of 2005, which included extensive community involvement, the Refuge will offer a variety of wildlife-focused visitor opportunities as funding becomes available. Current plans include a Visitor Information Center open seasonally with exhibits about the prairie, wildlife, and site history. A year-round trail system will be open to hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. The Rocky Mountain Greenway trail system will connect the Refuge to Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuges and Rocky Mountain National Park. Signs, maps, and interpretive panels with information about the Refuge, wildlife and habitat, and the site’s transition from prairie grassland to Cold War manufacturing to a national wildlife refuge will be located throughout the Refuge. Guided tours, hikes, and nature programs will be available on a seasonal basis. Environmental education opportunities will be offered for high school and college-level students on and off the Refuge.
Management and Restoration
Refuge staff use a variety of management and restoration techniques to enhance, restore, and monitor wildlife and habitat. Prescribed burns, biological controls, and mowing ensure a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.
Invasive weeds present a tremendous challenge to the health and diversity of native plants and wildlife habitat on the Refuge. They can outcompete native plants and grasses resulting in poor habitat for wildlife. They also can spread to adjacent lands and cause significant problems for our neighbors. The predominant invasive weeds are diffuse knapweed, Dalmatian toadflax, and Canada thistle. Herbicides, biological controls, mechanical removal, prescribed burns, and controlled grazing are management tools used to control the spread of and reduce these weed species. Refuge staff work with adjacent land owners and local agencies to coordinate weed management activities.
Native Americans occupied the land intermittently prior to the 1800s and limited artifacts have been located from this era. Starting in 1868, the Scott family established a homestead here and the land was used to raise cattle. The Lindsay family raised cattle and built a house and barn in the 1940s. In 1951, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission acquired 2,519 acres, which included the Lindsay property, for the Rocky Flats (RF) Plant to produce nuclear and nonnuclear weapons including plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. An additional 4,027 acres were acquired in 1974 for plant expansion.
This site was one of 13 nuclear weapons production facilities in the United States during the Cold War and was managed by the Department of Energy (DOE). The plant operated from 1952 to 1994 with manufacturing activities taking place in the center portion of the site with a large buffer zone around the area.
The site was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List (Superfund List) in 1989. The facility’s mission changed from production to cleanup and closure and was renamed the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. Through the Rocky Flats Act of 2001, the site was established as a national wildlife refuge while cleanup was underway. With oversight from the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the DOE completed the $7 billion cleanup in 2005. The DOE maintains 1,300 acres as part of their legacy management for long-term site maintenance and to ensure the cleanup is functioning as designed. These lands are not part of the Refuge.
Today, the Refuge supports an abundance of resident and migratory wildlife. The Refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System – a network of lands set aside and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically for wildlife. The Refuge System is a living heritage, conserving wildlife and habitat for people today and for generations to come.