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Tim Van Schmidt
There’s just no excuse. If you love the outdoors, you should know about Fort Collins Natural Areas, a collection of park-like havens for wildlife and nature-lovers tucked into the corners of our city.
To celebrate the Natural Areas, I did my own tour of several locations.
I’ve already reported on my trip to Reservoir Ridge — northwest of the city — and passed along the warning that rattlesnakes are alive and well and hanging out wherever they want to in the foothills, including by the trail.
But did I mention that when I was at Reservoir Ridge, I also got to see delicate wildflowers in bloom all over the hillsides?
More recently, I went to Pineridge, also in the west right in front of Horsetooth Reservoir. I live practically at the foot of this one and have been there many times — for exercise, with out-of-town guests who could use an easy hike and for bug hunting with the grandson.
But I did something new this time and followed the Viewpoint Spur, heading a short distance along the foothills from the upper parking area. From the end — where a sign tells you this is definitely the end — you get a very nice view of Fort Collins nestled against the foothills.
Even closer to me than Pineridge is Red Fox Meadows Natural Area, located in the southeast corner of Taft Hill and Prospect. Here, waterways and marshy areas provide a much different environment than the rocky, scrub brush foothills areas.
There is much to explore at Red Fox Meadows, with pathways threading through the trees and around the horsetails. It seems that the red wing black birds rule here and they noisily call to each other from wherever they are. My reward on this trip was watching a mother duck and her fuzzy duckling crew paddle smoothly by in the canal.
To get out of my neighborhood in west Fort Collins — and speaking to the fact that Fort Collins Natural Areas are located throughout the region — I finished my 2021 summer tour in the east at Running Deer. It’s a totally new one to me, but I have a friend living nearby who has been there often and agreed to be my guide.
The area is a reclaimed gravel pit and has become a haven for birds, among other things. We saw only one other person during our recent visit and that guy was a birder. The fact that dogs, bikes and horses are prohibited here probably has something to do with that.
While we walked along the wide road/path leading by a huge pond, a pair of avocets, their long pointy bills turned upward, blasted over our heads, and then blasted back a minute later. Then two large black cormorants lifted off of the pond surface and into flight.
The downside at Running Deer is that while you can certainly feel you are in a place with nature, there is the constant sound of traffic from both Prospect and I-25. Also, when I was there, you couldn’t stop for long before attracting bugs and I did get nailed by a biting fly — I was glad to have used some bug spray and escaped further problems.
But a very pleasant rest at the Historic Fire Lookout, a visit to the banks of the Poudre River and the sight of, yes, a running deer, made for a fine visit
Does the above sound good but you don’t know where these areas are? Check the site at fcgov.com/naturalareas and then start plotting your own tour.
At Reservoir Ridge, my first Natural Areas stop, I picked up the latest Natural Areas map — because I really like real physical maps — as well as a brochure spelling out the regulations.
Some of the regulations are eye-opening:
“It shall be unlawful to…
Discard, dispose or release any waste or hazardous substance of any kind…
Bathe or wash any persons or objects in any waters…
Drive, hit or throw golf balls…
Launch a model rocket…
Knowingly or negligently harass wildlife, or permit or direct a dog, falcon or other animal under one’s care or control to harass wildlife…
Remove, destroy, mutilate, modify or deface any building…”
Now, I said that they were eye-opening not because they are outrageous or unreasonable, but because I came to realize these regulations would probably not get written up if people hadn’t already tried these shenanigans.
Along with this message to get out and enjoy what our city provides, is one to say use your head — don’t do dumb things that will ruin the sites for other people. Take advantage and take care of Fort Collins Natural Areas — they are worth enjoying and preserving.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Hear interviews with musicians and experience cool art videos on his channel at YouTube: “Time Channels by Tim Van Schmidt.”