Week 2: Nature of the Poudre River

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the Cache la Poudre River. I’ve splashed in it, thrown stones in it (“spelunking,” as Calvin and Hobbes would say), floated on it, picked my way across the rocks when it was merely a trickle. But over the past few years, the river and I haven’t exactly seen a lot of each other.

This spring, when the Poudre surged over its banks, I was reminded what a dynamic presence it is in this town. And I realized I really don’t know much about it, other than the fact that it got its name from the French trappers who cached their gun-poudre along its banks. So I decided to take advantage of one of the city’s guided walks along a section of the Poudre River trail.

It was raining steadily when I arrived at the east parking lot of Lee Martinez Park, but the intrepid Rick (Master Naturalist) and Janet (Naturalist-in-Training) were ready and willing to lead the four of us who chanced the weather. Rick offered us bug spray (I should have thought of that) and binoculars (ditto), and we set off. In typical Colorado fashion, the rain didn’t last long. We were then able to close our umbrellas and free up our hands for the important business of shooing away mosquitoes.

A river is not only about water any more than a forest is only about trees, and Rick was well-prepared to educate us about the Poudre riparian ecology. Though there was evidence of deer in the hollows of pressed-down grass and of beavers on the riverbank, the critters we saw were the winged kind: a turkey vulture soaring overhead, a downy woodpecker hopping through tree branches, the blue-and-white flashes of two belted kingfishers swooping low over the water. (And the mosquitoes. Did I mention the mosquitoes?)

We saw evidence of humans, also. Too often, that means beer cans and cigarette butts, but as we crossed the bridge to the McMurry Natural area, this is what we spied on the riverbed below:

Way cool.

Random interesting things I learned on my first-ever guided river walk:
--The Poudre is Colorado’s only designated Wild and Scenic River;
--The lower Poudre is a National River Heritage Corridor;
--The predominant native tree species along the river are the prairie cottonwood and the crack willow;
--Kingfishers can burrow 8 feet deep into the riverbank;
--Turkey vultures are related to condors, not vultures;
--Small side ponds serve as kidneys, filtering runoff before it reaches the river;
--The cross-section of a cottonwood has a star shape of darker wood within it;
--The city uses a gritty gray paint on the lower sections of some trees to deter beavers; and
--The first recorded use of the name “Cache la Poudre" is in Col. Henry Dodge’s report of July, 1835.

As we passed the area where a former junkyard is being restored, a member of the group commented on how lucky we are to have the river trail so close to town. So true. There are 17 natural areas along the river. Get out and enjoy one.

For more information about the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program, click here.

Ellie, Rick, and Mike after the walk


Bill and I walked that trail a couple of times, but I never knew there were guided tours. Good info and very nice photos, Jenny.

Anonymous said…
Great post Jen. Love the pictures. I think we will HAVE to take the kids there this weekend - AND IT'S FREE!!! Love the idea of a guided tour too - and mosquito spray. Thanks Jenny!

Marcie Johnston
Marlene said…
We went for an evening walk. We crossed the Poudre River & could see the creative stone messages through the water. We walked through the McMurry Natural area. I'm really pleased that there are really beautiful open places with trails on the other side of the river. There was a really pretty sunset with glowing pink clouds reflecting in the water.

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