A Suburbitat in Colorado


“You can’t talk about conservation on one hand and development on the other as if they were two unrelated issues because they’re not.”—Tom Hoyt (who does both)

It’s a familiar cycle. Wilderness is turned into farmland, which often gets developed into shopping malls, industrial sites, or residential cul de sacs. Suburban cul de sacs are not unknown in Western New York; they are more distinguished by their convenience than by their landscaping. But this 3,500-acre site in Loveland, Colorado is different; it’s a residential development where wilderness has crept back in, through design.

The High Plains Environmental Center maintains about 700 acres of wildlife habitat and public environmental park in the middle of the Centerra mixed-use community. There are trails, ponds, native plant demonstration gardens, wetlands, a fruit orchard, community garden raised beds, and a native plant nursery. Walking the trails, I was continually aware of birds, insects, and other creatures, with bees working away on the native shrubs I passed. There are dozens of species of birds living here, including kestrels, blue-winged teal, grebes, herons, American eagles, hawks, rails, sandpipers, owls, warblers, and many more, including these American white pelicans (above), which I had never seen before. You can get a complete plant and animal species list from the website.

There are other such communities throughout the US—sadly, this movement has not come yet to Western New York, to my knowledge. This is a model where conservation can support itself; fees generated by building permits are paid to a nonprofit and a community that’s attractive to investors, residents, and businesses emerges. HPEC started as the idea of architect/builder Tom Hoyt (quoted above) who, with his company, McStain, signed an agreement with developers Centerra in 2001. It took 16 years to clean-up and restore the site. HPEC is now headed by Jim Holstrup, who spoked to the group of bloggers I was part of (the annual Garden Bloggers tour, which took place in and around Denver this year). It became Colorado’s first Community Wildlife Habitat in 2018.

There are those who simply deplore development sprawl outside of urban areas and wish it would just stop. It’s not going to, but it needs to get smarter in terms of environmental impact. We need to get smarter everywhere we live.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Good info on The High Plains Environmental Center…I walked over to see the pelicans, too. I wish there were more environmentally oriented communities in Nashville, instead of HOAs that expect you to grow lawns and the same old same old shrubs.

  2. Very good story. It’s become almost a necessity that we all take responsibility for this. I have a milkweed corner. https://photos.app.goo.gl/GwXV5Jzj7CMjeH3w5 I bring in about 50 caterpillars per year for autumn release. I’ll be bringing in some black swallowtail cats this weekend. It’s how you turn children on to gardening. They’re not interested in plants that don’t attract insects. ** JUNE 21, 2019 – CITIES ARE KEY TO SAVING MONARCH BUTTERFLIES: https://phys.org/news/2019-06-cities-key-monarch-butterflies.html

  3. Really enjoyed visiting this inspiring place too. I must have asked a young girl/docent at the community veg garden a million questions which she patiently answered. I assumed everybody who buys in knows what to expect, but she said the single most frequent question asked is, When are you going to mow the grass?
    So it seems to be a learning curve for the residents too.


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