Reclaiming an Industrial Waste Site

Kingfisher Point Natural Area (146.9 acres) lies east of downtown Fort Collins, and the Cache la Poudre River flows through the northern portion. The Poudre Trail winds its way along the south side of the river and through riparian cottonwood forest for 0.8 miles, and to the south of the trail, fields and ponds provide sanctuary for water fowl. Natural areas also lie beside the river to the west (Williams Springer) and east (Cattail Chorus and Riverbend Ponds) of Kingfisher Point. This area was not always devoted to recreation and preservation, though.[1. Cache la Poudre Natural Areas Management Plan Update, City of Fort Collins, 2011, 123.]

Land and water use at Kingfisher Point have changed several times in the last 150 years. In the 1860s, the area became part of Alfred Howes’ ranch. The Chaffee Ditch, built in 1872, flowed along the western edge, irrigating farms to the southeast until the 1970s, so water bordered the area on the west and north. For the next fifty years, owners used the land for agricultural production until, in 1916, Fort Collins’ Great Western Sugar Company purchased just under 93 acres along the north and south sides of the river from Water Supply & Storage Company for waste disposal. In 1926, when settling ponds north of the river filled to near capacity, the company built a flume suspension bridge across the Poudre River to move lime-laden effluent used to make sugar to the southern site. Every day the factory ran, Great Western discharged thousands of gallons of slurry from the factory into settling ponds where solids separated from water. Flumes and laterals cut across the area, directing lime sludge into ponds and cleaner water over spillways and back into the Poudre River. Great Western used the south side ponds until the factory closed in 1955. Then the ponds were left to dry up, and weeds took over lime-laden soil as deep as 11 feet. After nearly thirty years as an industrial waste dump, the area returned to agricultural use. In 1973, the area supported wetland pasture and alfalfa production.

In 1998, the Fort Collins Natural Areas Program (NAP) purchased the dried waste ponds and has worked since then to rehabilitate the soil, remove non-native plants, and create places for urban recreation. Further south, NAP also added land that includes floodplains ponds, possibly the site of earlier gravel mining like those at Cattail Chorus and Riverbend Ponds, to Kingfisher Point to create a more hospitable area for water birds. After a century and a half, the city mostly has returned water at Kingfisher Point Natural Area to wildlife and environmental protection while simultaneously creating green spaces for residents to recreate.[2. Victor Elliott, Decree in the Matter of Priorities of Water Rights in Water District No. 3 (Fort Collins: Evening Courier Printing House, 1882), 43; Jay Trask, “Irrigation and Water-Related Structures in the Cache la Poudre River Corridor” (unpublished manuscript, 1993), 69; Ron Sladek, “Great Western Sugar Company Effluent Flume and Bridge,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, (Fort Collins: Tatonka Historical Associates, 2014), 20-25; Robert G. Evans, et al., Agricultural Land Use in the Poudre Valley (Fort Collins, Colo.: Colorado State University, 1973), sheet 42; Cache la Poudre Natural Areas Management Plan Update, City of Fort Collins, 2011, 124 and Appendix E, p. 88; Strategy for Gravel Lands Along the Poudre River, draft report, Anderson & Company Ecoplanning with Hart & Associates and Bishop-Brogden Associates, Inc., July 21, 1997.]