Waterton Canyon, which incises the foothills southwest of Denver, represents the South Platte's final journey through the Rocky Mountains before it rumbles onto the Colorado Piedmont. Harboring a wealth of scenic rock formations and home to a wide variety of Transition Zone flora and fauna, the canyon has long been a popular destination for hikers, birders, fishermen and naturalists. Over the past decade or so, it has also become a mecca for bikers and joggers, now comprising at least 75% of the visitors.
While these trail athletes surely enjoy the pristine landscape, at least in a holistic sense, I doubt they pay much attention to the varied plants and animals, focused as they are on distance and time. As they turdge along, gasping and spitting, or whiz by on their trail bikes, I often wonder if they could identify even a handful of species that inhabit the canyon. They surely notice the bighorn sheep, for which this refuge is well known, but a fleeting glance is probably sufficient.
In this age of obesity, I certainly have no objection to aerobic exercise. But I suspect these bikers and joggers choose Waterton Canyon for its graded climb and known distance (6 miles to the Strontia Springs Dam); of course, they also enjoy group exercise and avoid the heavy auto traffic that occurs in other foothill canyons. Some might conclude that I envy the youth and vitality of these athletes (which is surely true to some extent) but I am more inclined to pity their lack of interest in nature's bounty. Dogs are not permitted in Waterton Canyon in order to protect the bighorn sheep; perhaps we should limit its use as an athletic training site in order to protect the natural milieu.