Rocky Mountain Arsenal Gives Birth to Wildlife Refuge

Nearly 5,000 acres of the former Rocky Mountain Arsenal reopened this weekend as a national wildlife refuge. Located some 10 miles northeast of Denver, Colo., the arsenal, a 27-square-mile chemical-weapons complex that for four decades produced sarin, mustard gas, and napalm, left behind one of the nation’s most polluted landscapes. Cleanup began in 1985, and because the site was closed to the public, it became a haven for eagles, deer, coyote, and other wildlife. The area remains a Superfund site and remediation will continue for years; an additional 10,000 acres will be added to the refuge when cleanup finishes around 2011. While some groups hailed the opening, others questioned the wisdom of promoting public access to an area where sarin-gas bomblets were found as recently as 2001 and toxic chemicals remain in the soil. Sandra Horrocks of the Sierra Club drew a colorful analogy to illustrate the incomplete remediation at the arsenal: “Storing your dirty underwear under your bed is not cleaning your bedroom.”