“…beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds”

This black-crowned night-heron was stalking the hissing water along Cherry Creek in Denver. The walkway and bike trail along the creek is used by hundreds of people each day, so the bird paid no heed to the human traffic. Just like the famous animals of the Galapagos, urban animals (human and non-human alike) can be observed in close quarters.

nightheronclosenightherongazenightheroncrouchnightheronjoggerCherry Creek runs through the heart of town. On its banks Denver’s history has played out: the brutal removal of Arapahoe Indians, the booming population of immigrant settlers whose incomprehension of flash floods caused early versions of Denver to wash downstream, typhoid epidemics as the creek’s waters served both as drinking water source and sewer, extensive industrialization that turned the creek into an inaccessible tangle of railroads and warehouses, and the work of generations of civil servants whose commitment to reclaiming the vitality of the creek has turned it into a much-used garland of greenways and parks.

On Saturday afternoon, the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte hosted nearly two hundred picnickers, swimmers and walkers. Hundreds more passed on the riverside trails. This is a phenomenal achievement for Denver: no longer are the joys of Colorado’s waters available only to those with the money and time to drive to wilderness fly-fishing spots. Some of that wild water flows right through the city, bringing fish to the night-heron and pleasure to the weekend amblers. The water erodes just a small part of the many, many barriers that divide our society.

south platte denver

21 thoughts on ““…beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds”

  1. Robley Hood

    David, I did my PhD in Denver and lived a block and a half from this well-loved trail. I so enjoyed walking and biking from my apartment through downtown and out toward the football stadium. Other urban communities especially could learn much from the foresight of those who planned, funded, and realized this healing retreat many years ago.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Yes: Denver seems to be out on the “front range” in many ways. I had no idea that you’d lived there. The trails were very well used when I was there. Crazy bike traffic at rush hour.

  2. Jennifer Scarlott

    Tremendous post, David. I so agree that restoration stories can play an enormous part in encouraging and motivating people who otherwise might not act or hope. And thank you for the context of Cherry Creek’s history, and the photos of the charismatic heron. Have shared this post with environmentalist friends in India (www.sanctuaryasia.com) engaged in the work of protecting/restoring. Please sign our tiger petition: http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/save-the-tiger-heed-its-leave-me-alone-call

  3. Jim Ann Howard

    I used to hang out with a black-crowned-night-heron that lived by a pond just north of 97th street in the upper west side of Central Park. It seemed impervious to the crowds and lived there all year round – which really surprised me. Great post, David.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Hmmm. Not sure, but red is usually a social signal. Many red-eyed birds (hawks, towhees) only get red eyes as adults. The same is true for this species. Birds of North America states: “Iris: Grayish olive at hatching, but changes to light yellow within 1–2 d, and is bright yellow by 20–30 d, orange-chrome by 1 yr, and bright red by 2–3 yr of age.”

  4. Scott

    Boulder Creek flowing through Boulder, Colorado is a similar urban stream with trails along both sides and heavily used parkland along its length through the city.

    Your second-last image is interesting. It appears that there’s a large storm drain outfall in the background, and that the outfall is fitted with a huge metal cover that prevents Cherry Creek’s flood waters from flowing back into the drainage system.

    Jim Ann Howard’s comment, above, about spending some time with a BCNH in Central Park in New York is “spot on”; I don’t think I’ve ever been more startled by a bird sighting that I was when I spotted a BCNH in Central Park years ago–though spotting a Greater Roadrunner perched on gigantic rip-rap revetment next to the bike path paralleling the San Luis Rey River in San Diego was a close second.

    1. Paddy Woodworth

      I think this whole issue of animals and plants exploiting new interfaces with built infrastructure, and how we respond to it, is key to the future of both conservation and restoration. In Dublin port, we have enterprising terns nesting on mooring platforms, even when in (limited)use, though they needed to be ‘refurbished’ to maximise breeding success. BUT we also need to be careful that these encouraging developments do not become the justification for ‘developing’ more of the now scarce sites which are their more ‘natural’ counterparts. Nor should such instances be used to cheerily rebrand degraded sites as ‘novel ecosystems’. This is a complex area, and one that demands a lot of clear, open-minded thinking…

      1. David George Haskell Post author

        Yes, I agree. The fact that some species can adapt to and even thrive in urban environments is not a justification for heedless sprawl and land-gobbling development. But the old view of cities as wastelands to be ignored by the “environmental” community is, I hope, long gone.

  5. Bruce Huber

    Most people say erodes, like it was a bad thing, but you evoke a saturation point, a solvent that is civil.


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