“We are left with the dregs”: Heron Pond’s toxic brew spotlights obstacles in Denver’s push to regain green space

Plans call for 80 acres of park, natural space around pond tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead

Denver officials are planning to turn 80 acres of former industrial land around the contaminated Heron Pond near the South Platte River, seen here on April 18, 2018, into the city’s first major new green space in a decade. It’s illustrative of the difficulty city parks planners have in obtaining suitable land for public open space in a highly developed urban environment.

Denver planners have been gathering with residents to design the city’s first new big green space in more than a decade — 80 acres of park and natural land around Heron Pond near the South Platte River, including a pollinator garden, artwork and nods to working-class history.

But this is industrial wasteland. The 2-foot-deep pond holds toxic sludge laced with lead, arsenic and cadmium. Contaminated stormwater runoff from surrounding work yards worsens the brew.

And even though low-income north Denver residents say they are practically starved for nature in the city, a festering sense of injustice rankles the deal.

“We are left with the dregs,” longtime resident John Zapien said at a recent community meeting, urging city officials to prioritize health. “We need to clean up Heron Pond. No ifs, ands or buts,” Zapien told officials in the room.

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