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Ecology

“A Riparian Zone in a High-Prairie Ecosystem”

The St. Vrain River flows through a transition zone between two remarkable regions that dominate this part of the continent: the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.

At nearly 5,000 feet elevation, the grasslands on Colorado’s Front Range comprise a semi-arid prairie ecosystem, known as high prairie or short-grass prairie. These ethereal grasslands span from Saskatchewan and Alberta in the North, south through Montana, all the way into southeastern New Mexico. These types of prairies are desert-like and do not receive the amount of rainfall as the grasslands further east do.

The riparian (river) zones within the high-elevation prairies provide oases of moisture in an otherwise dry climate. Willow, alders, and majestic cottonwoods grow on riverbanks and in nearby flood plains. Red-wing Blackbirds, Bank Swallows and Kingfishers make their homes by waterways, as do Herons, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys. Tracks and sign of beavers and muskrats can be seen along these riverbanks, and you may even catch a glimpse of a mink or a snapping turtle if you’re lucky!

The buzz of activity and life that can be seen on the river has everything to do with the life-sustaining nature of water. Because of the dryness of the high-prairie, you will see plant and animal species on Front Range rivers that you would rarely see elsewhere in the region.

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