In Fort Collins, houses stop marching at a 200-plus preserve of wetlands. A busy road runs by, but the sound of traffic is overtaken by birdsong and the melody of the Cache la Poudre River.
This is Riverbend Ponds Natural Area — “a wild oasis in the midst of the city,” reads one interpretive sign. Reads another: “As more land gets built up, protected natural areas become even more important — for wildlife, and for people to learn, play and take a break from urban life.”
Fittingly, a path connects the natural area to Colorado State University’s Environmental Learning Center. At Riverbend Ponds, students can learn the inner workings of tiny and large ecosystems based along a chain of waters. Their names allude to the variety here: Bluegill Pond, Turtle Pond, Dragonfly Pond, Chorus Frog Pond, etc.
This is a birding paradise. More than 200 species have been counted here. The place is popular, too, for fishing. On our visit, we spotted families and youngsters casting lines for the warmwater likes stocked in the ponds, including largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish.
Riverbend Ponds is also frequented by runners, cyclists and dog walkers. The flat trails afford a fine respite, the simple pleasures of nature.
From the parking lot off Prospect Road, the loop starts ahead at the aptly-named Big Pond. We opted to go left, following to the banks of the Poudre, a pleasant sight backdropped by the foothills in the far distance. Farther beyond, the snow-capped promontories of Rocky Mountain National Park can be admired.
In about a mile, a trail cuts right, back to the trailhead. We followed this way, but a bigger loop can be made by continuing onward. The preserve’s trails cover about 3 miles total.
Trip log: 1.88 miles (loop)
Getting there: Going north on Interstate 25 into Fort Collins, take exit 268 for Prospect Road. Turn left onto Prospect. Parking lot will be to the right in about 1½ miles.
FYI: Open 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Foot traffic, bikes and horses. Dogs on leash. Keep dogs out of water. No swimming.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE