Often the term “urban” brings to mind sprawling concrete communities filled with skyscrapers, smog and traffic jams. Because of that, urban and nature don’t seem simpatico. However, at the High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC), located within The Lakes at Centerra in Loveland, Colorado and surrounded by beautiful new homes, there is an amazing urban environmental park open to the public from sunrise to sunset seven days a week, 365 days a year.
HPEC is nestled in Centerra’s 3,500-acre mixed-use, master-planned community, which at build-out will be home to an estimated 10 to 15 thousand people. At the same time, twice as many will work in Centerra. With a dense population around it, the HPEC is an urban natural area that brings balance to the region. HPEC feels remarkably spacious and natural amid surrounding suburbia.
For The Lakes residents, HPEC is just one unique nature element to complement 76 acres of land, three miles of trails and two pristine lakes. An additional 200 acres make this a home that is Certified Wild.
In 1907, Hout’s Reservoir and Equalizer Lake were dug in the area in order to store water for irrigation and have since become a valuable habitat for migratory waterfowl that nest there every year such as western grebes. HPEC creates a safe harbor for local birds and animals. Houts Reservoir, the northern lake, is open seasonally for limited non-motorized boating so locals can enjoy an evening canoe ride as the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains and an up-close-and-personal experience with wildlife.
To kayak or canoe on the lake, however, residents must register their watercraft online before launching it into Houts Reservoir. Once submitted, a permit sticker is issued that must be affixed to the watercraft. For more information about requirements and precautions, boaters are encouraged to visit The Lakes resident portal.
“You can’t talk about conservation on one hand and development on the other as if they were two unrelated issues because they’re not,” said Hoyt, proving development and conservationism can go hand-in-hand.
HPEC’s Heart in the Earth
At the heart of the HPEC is the belief that human alterations to a landscape can have beneficial impacts on wildlife. The two are not mutually exclusive. Development in Northern Colorado and elsewhere could have a significant beneficial impact on wildlife if it is planned and implemented well.
Throughout the last 40 years, there has been a 60 percent decline in bird populations throughout the Northern Colorado region and elsewhere in the country. This big number is a stark reminder that poorly planned developments have a negative impact and a corresponding loss of habitat is often the result. The Lakes residents often have a deep connection to the community and the natural area they reside and recreate in.
Fortunately, HPEC is committed to preserving Colorado’s unique natural beauty within our growing urban areas and cultivating a conservation ethic so the region remains healthy for future generations of The Lakes to enjoy.
One of the main highlights of the HPEC is the WildZone, an experimental outdoor classroom where children can partake in self-directed learning and foster a love of nature. Thanks to HPEC’s valuable volunteers, the WildZone is always evolving.
The inception for the WildZone concept stems from Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” 2007 study which links the lack of nature in children’s lives to the rise in obesity, depression and attention disorders. Louv also identified a link between exposure to the outdoors and nature and healthy childhood physical, social and emotional development. Based on this study, the WildZone at HPEC was created.
Children who visit the WildZone are encouraged to participate in unstructured play in various components of the natural amenities which include:
Annual Native Plant Sale
This year’s Native Plant Sale held by HPEC went digital to ensure safety and physical distancing with COVID-19. And as it turns out, this year was the most successful sale ever. During the spring, HPEC grew and sold the equivalent of the last three years of plant sales combined. Following that success, HPEC is continuing to sell plants while supplies last.
With a mission of restoring nature where we live, work and play, the HPEC annual Native Plant Sale is a great way to educate the community, while also creating replicable “living laboratories” which demonstrate restorative examples of land-stewardship, native plants and wildlife habitat.
HPEC’s Native Plant Sale offers nearly 60 different varieties of local plants, grasses and flowers at an incredibly reasonable price of $5 per item. All plants come in 3.5-inch pots and take two to three days to prepare. You may pick-up your order Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the pickup window located at the HPEC, 2698 Bluestem Willow Dr. Loveland, CO while supplies last.
Why buy native plants? There are many benefits when you plant native including conserving water, supporting native wildlife and helping pollinators. That’s right, bees love those native flowers too!
Part of HPEC’s mission is to educate and inform the community about the natural beauty that The Lakes at Centerra residents enjoy on a daily basis. When walking around the lake or neighborhood, we want people to know the names of flowers or birds that they see. HPEC offers residents educational classes on everything from gardening to birding.
Unfortunately, due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, HPEC has canceled indoor activities for the summer, however, there are still some great outdoor events you can participate in.
For more information on HPEC programs or events call 970-622-9676 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.