Spotlight on Parks: Cherry Creek State Park

The high-pitched whine of a model airplane zipping through the air mingles with the raucous cries of gulls and the roar of power boats. You’re at Cherry Creek State Park, and it’s the place to to be on a warm, late autumn day. Located in Aurora not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Denver, Cherry Creek is an oasis in the midst of the urban jungle that sees more than 1 million visitors every year.

A cormorant dries itself off at the Cherry Creek State Park marina. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A cormorant dries itself off at the Cherry Creek State Park marina. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In 1950, Cherry Creek dam was built to prevent flooding in Denver.  Shortly after in 1959, the area became part of the Colorado Parks system. Today, Cherry Creek consists of 4,200 acres of parkland, including an 850 acre lake (really a man-made reservoir).

The reservoir is the main draw of the park and on my trip I saw plenty of people enjoying it. From sailboats to paddleboards to kayaks to jet skis, everyone was enjoying the water in their own way. And so were the birds. Popping up in among the flotillas of American Coots were Pied-billed Grebes and the occasional duck. I even saw 3 loons, uncommon visitors to Colorado, bobbing up and down amid the Ring-billed, Herring, and California Gulls.

Abutting the reservoir is a wetland preserve. The preserve is off-limits to biking, pets, and horses, but hikers are welcome. As I dodged slick muddy patches and branches I kept my eyes open for small mammals, but only the occasional squirrel poked its head out to stare at me. More birds were evident though, including an unexpected Common Redpoll singing from the top of a cottonwood tree. In the spring I’m sure the wetland is alive with the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds and nesting waterfowl and the paddling of industrious beaver. I did see a few gnawed trees that indicated the latter’s presence.

View of Cherry Creek Reservoir from the wetland. Photo by Jamie Simo.
View of Cherry Creek Reservoir from the wetland. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Farther out from the reservoir is prairie and, though I didn’t explore it, prairie dogs are abundant there. I saw them scurrying and heard them yipping as I drove into the park. I can only imagine there must be coyote and fox skulking around too with so much food available.

In addition to boating and wildlife viewing, the park is known for its model airplane field and its shooting range. Fishing, biking, horseback riding, camping, and picnicking are also popular activities as well as cross-country skiing in the winter months. There’s even a sandy beach for swimming in the summer.

Like all Colorado State Parks, the annual State Parks pass includes access to Cherry Creek. However, Cherry Creek also requires a $3 additional Basin sticker to help pay for water cleanup and reservoir maintenance. Both stickers can be purchased online at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. You can also pay $9 for a day pass. Additional fees are required for camping, shooting or boating.

A female Mallard glides along near the marina. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A female Mallard glides along near the marina. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Cherry Creek really is a premier destination to get away from it all and this just may be one of the best times of year to see it. According to the park’s brochure, it can get crowded on summer weekends and sometimes there may be a wait to park due to a cap on the number of vehicles and boats in the park at one time. So come visit Cherry Creek this fall while the crowds are out.

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