AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The High Line Canal Conservancy hopes more people of various backgrounds will take advantage of the easier access for walks and biking along the newest stretch of the trail in Aurora. Closing a portion of the largest gap in the canal, the path in the city now connects to Denver’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood.

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“A big part of the plan is to really improve the user experience on the trail in these areas, reducing barriers to access and using the trail,” said Josh Phillips, the director of planning and implementation for the Conservancy. “We’ve seen a real change in the natural environment and a real need for improvements to help this area achieve its full potential as a recreational resource for these neighborhoods.”

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The new section built by Aurora Parks, Recreation & Open Space at mile 65 in the path that is 71 miles total. It is part of an improvement plan that includes more connectivity and access for neighbors as well as landscape enhancements like new trees as well as more signs.

“It’s very convenient, you can ride up and down, walk, exercise, walk, whatever you want to do,” said Robert Cope, a neighbor who lives nearby the new path. “You can meet a lot of people.”

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Signs added along the trail include way finding information as well as the history of the canal, which goes back to 1883 when it served as an irrigation source for farms and ranches. More than 140 years later, the trail reaches 11 different communities in the state.

“Really understanding the story of the canal is something that the signs can help bring to life,” Phillips said Wednesday while along the new section. “My hope would be that all neighborhoods along the canal have the chance to connect with nature right in their backyard.”

The latest expansion covers an underutilized area in northeast Denver and Aurora, populated by predominately Black and Latino communities who have lower trail counts according to the Conservancy. By bringing the canal closer to their homes and making it easier for them to walk and bike on these paths, it can help improve community health.

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“For communities that may not have the opportunities to get up into the mountains every weekend, who may not have the opportunities to experience the Rocky Mountains,” Phillips said to CBS4. “We have an opportunity to connect with nature right here in our backyards.”

LINK: highlinecanal.org

The canal is currently being decommissioned for irrigation use, the northern half currently doesn’t have that service. As it grows, paths connect neighbors to state parks and allow them to travel through various settings including residential and industrial areas. Some stretches have more trees, others have covered sections, or more of a prairie setting like the newest addition in Aurora.

“The canal is a thread across our region, an opportunity to connect to nature in our backyard,” he said.

As the work continues to close the largest gap that is almost three miles long, Phillips says one day the path near Colfax will reach the section north of I-70. To help support the work of the Conservancy, the “Walk For the Canal” fundraiser continues into October. Neighbors appreciate the impact they’ve already made on the trails closest to their homes.

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“I love nature,” Cope said. “It’s so beautiful, it is so beautiful.”

Shawn Chitnis