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Know the West

Latest: Toxic-tinged wildlife refuge deemed safe for visitors

But conservation groups fear contamination at Colorado’s Rocky Flats still lingers.


Starting in 1952, the Rocky Flats plant, northwest of Denver, produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. In the early ’90s, the highly contaminated facility was designated a Superfund site, and 5,000 acres were later set aside as a wildlife refuge for elk, bobcats, prairie falcons, Preble's jumping mice, badgers and more. Cleanup was completed in 2006, but the refuge remained closed to the public due to concerns about lingering plutonium and other pollutants (“The Half-life of Memory,” HCN, 2/17/09).


In late March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that, this summer, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge will open to the public for the first time. Several advocacy groups had fought to keep it closed, citing contamination fears, but their lawsuit was dismissed last fall. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment say the refuge —one of the planet’s largest undisturbed areas of tallgrass prairie — is safe for visitors.