Change at the site has been gradual, with tracts cleaned up, declared safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and handed over to the Fish & Wildlife Service in stages. The Wildlife Drive is the park's newest attraction. I got a preview with Susan Drobniak of Fish & Wildlife, at the wheel, leaving me free to spot wildlife and take pictures.
Drobniak worked as an Army contractor spokeswoman during the clean-up for 12 years. She switched to Fish & Wildlife two and a half years ago, and now marvels at the respite for the senses the area offers city-dwellers.
"It's very beautiful," she said. "And it has a lot of sound. We'll hear red-wing blackbirds singing. You'll hear the deer walking through the tall grasses. You'll hear bison grunting. You'll hear all the different calls of the prairie dogs."
I also heard the odd plane, landing at or taking off from Denver International Airport, which borders the park to the east. Drobniak says visitors, some from foreign countries, with a long airport lay-over have been known to take a taxi to the refuge.
The refuge also is bordered by low-income neighborhoods that are home to many Hispanic and black residents. Dougherty, of the National Wildlife Federation, sees that as an opportunity to connect with communities that don't often get to visit wild areas.
"It doesn't serve me well to just say, 'Here it is, come enjoy it,' because the people who really need it may not come," he said.
Drobniak said outreach programs include bringing in children from nearby schools, which can apply for grants to cover transportation costs.
Dougherty, meanwhile, brings his grandchildren.
"And they really enjoy it," he said. "It's very heartening to me, to have been involved in this process."
If You Go...
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: 6550 Gateway Road, Commerce City, Colo.; http://www.fws.gov/rockymountainarsenal/ or 303-289-0930. Open daily 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Entrance is free. A $3 daily fee is charged for fishing, during the mid-April to mid-October season, and anglers need a Colorado fishing license.
SEASONAL HIGHLIGHTS: Spring wildflowers, lush prairie grasses in summer, fall colors, eagles returning to roost in winter.