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The Colorado chapter of the American Public Works Association has recognized Longmont’s Dickens Farm Nature Area as the recipient of the state organization’s 2020 “Parks and Trails” award for a large community, city officials said Wednesday.

The St. Vrain River runs through the 52-acre nature area, which is north of the Harvard Junction North shopping center between Main and Martin streets and is one of the trailheads in the St. Vrain Greenway trail system.

Dickens Farm, the newest nature area in the city parks system, opened last spring.

According to the city’s website for the facility, “the jewel of Dickens Farm Nature Area is a float course along the St. Vrain Creek open to tubes, kayaks, paddleboards, and small, non-motorized boats.”

There is a designated open water access point at Main Street and takeout points east of Martin Street and at the 119th Street trailhead, all marked by signs. There is no cost to use the St. Vrain River, but users must provide their own non-motorized carry-on boats and float devices.

The Dickens Farm Nature Area’s other features and amenities, according to the city’s news release and the facility’s website, include:

  • Discovery Island, an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible nature discovery area with an exploration trail.
  • A novice bike skills course on easy rolling terrain that was built with various natural materials.
  • Slower-moving water play areas.
  • Passive recreation areas.
  • Multiple shelter areas, including a large group shelter, picnic areas and restrooms.
  • Fishing for all ages.
  • Hiking.
  • Paved and gravel trails.

City staff said that Longmont’s application for the American Public Works Association’s Colorado chapter’s large-community parks and trails award stated that “with the completion of the Dickens Farm Nature Area, the City of Longmont has been able to provide a wildly popular natural amenity and major non-motorized transportation route in the heart of the city that also protects people and property from future flood risks.

“The float course, Discovery Island discovery area and novice bike skills course are accessible and suitable for all ages, providing the opportunity for all members of our community to have access to nature and water, two crucial elements of a healthy lifestyle. And it was completed just in time for residents and others to be able to enjoy it amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Senior Department of Public Works and Natural Resources project manager Steve Ransweiler said Wednesday that development of the nature area and its recreational offerings has been one of the city’s efforts to identify the St. Vrain River “as the asset that it is” to the community.

City staff said it cost just under $10 million to construct the Dickens Farm Nature Area, including about $6.6 million for river work and trail improvements that were completed as part of the Resilient St. Vrain City Reach 1 project and about $3 million for the final Dickens Farm Nature Area improvements.

Members of the Dickens Farm Nature Area project team included city staff, engineering and design firms Jacobs, MIG, Confluent Design, Recreational Engineering Planning and Biohabitats, and contractors Zak Dirt and HPM, Inc.

“Completion of Dickens Farm Nature Area has given our Longmont community a great place to play, while also providing local wildlife a safe passage along the creek corridor,” Deputy City Manager Dale Rademacher said in the news release.

“This project continues to show the ability of the city of Longmont to turn the tragedy of the 2013 flood into success, while keeping the environment and wildlife as important project priorities as well,” Rademacher said.

The nature area, previously known as Pavlakis Open Space, was Longmont’s first major acquisition, in 2001, Ransweiler said. Its future development as a nature area was master planned in 2001 and 2002 as part of an update to the St. Vrain Greenway Master Plan.

Longmont City Council changed the open space area’s name to Dickens Farm Park in July 2013. Williams Dickens was the original homesteader for the property and a Longmont founder. The name was further updated to Dickens Farm Nature Area in 2016.

The nature area has been a popular outdoor destination for Longmont residents and visitors since it opened last spring, Ransweiler said.

“It surpassed my expectations,” he said, speculating that COVID restrictions that otherwise had been limiting people’s normal social-gathering opportunities contributed to the Dickens Farm Nature Area’s value as an outdoor gathering spot for people wanting to recreate outdoors.

City officials continue to advise, however, that to engage in outdoor activities at Longmont parks and trails — activities such as walking, hiking, biking, running or otherwise visiting any public area — individuals must comply with public health guidelines, including having a face covering or mask to use when encountering other people and maintaining at least a 6-foot distance from others.

A member of the Colorado American Public Works Association board is expected to present the award to Longmont virtually at the City Council’s Nov. 17 meeting.

More information about the Dickens Farm Nature area is available at bit.ly/dickens-farm.

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