Magazine article Sunset

Bald and Beautiful

Magazine article Sunset

Bald and Beautiful

Article excerpt

Eagles just love Rocky Mountain Arsenal wildlife refuge

You'd be hard-pressed to find a less likely redoubt for bald eagles than this--a Superfund site surrounded by metropolitan Denver. Yet here they are, 75 or more, perched in the tall cottonwoods flanking First Creek. A couple dozen human observers huddle in a nearby blind, field glasses and telephoto lenses at the ready The late-afternoon sun paints the tallgrass bright yellow Perfect light, perfect stillness. The city next door seems a long way away.

The birds are relaxed but alert, dividing their time between the bare branches and the cold December currents. While aloft they survey the land for prairie dogs, a preferred snack. If the eagle-watchers get lucky, they may witness an aerial attack, outstretched wings and flared talons plunging down from the sky. Or they may see an eagle go after a smaller raptor, such as a red-tailed hawk, to swipe away its meal.

Hard as it is to believe, this wild kingdom--officially known as Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge--not long ago harbored a massive chemical weapons manufacturing complex. From 1942 to 1982, the U.S. Army and corporate tenants on this site produced mustard gas, napalm, and even DDT, the pesticide that helped put bald eagles on the endangered list. For security reasons the buildings were centered within a 27-square-mile campus, with yawning buffer zones of undeveloped land surrounding them. Denver and its suburbs had to build around the arsenal's fenced perimeter, so when the complex closed, the quite accidental result was an enormous midmetro parcel of untrammeled prairie. …

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