Situated along the Front Range of the Rockies, the high desert environment of Pueblo provides glorious natural settings in which residents and visitors have abundant opportunities to enjoy nature. Unlike much of Colorado, Pueblo has milder winters with less snow, encouraging hikers, bikers, fishermen and outdoor activity lovers to explore the natural word year round, whether looking for urban biking and hiking trails or wilder landscapes.
Downtown, the historic Riverwalk stretches along the Arkansas River, making for a gorgeous blend of nature and urban life. Welcoming to pedestrians, the 32-acre expanse includes an assortment of restaurants, shops and attractions along the water. Those who want to enjoy the water can take excursions via self-powered pedal boats and paddle boards, or travel in style with a gondolier or a chartered power boat for a group. Studio Share even offers paddle-board yoga. There’s even a farmers market along the Riverwalk Thursday afternoons.
Encouraging bike travel has become a priority, as well, and Pueblo’s new bike lanes help make that possible. The city’s Whitewater Park offers a half-mile-long, eight-drop public whitewater course for kayakers to perfect their skills. It's an amazing in-town course framed by miles of original murals.
Exploring the Wild
For those looking for greater challenge, Lake Pueblo provides a rich variety of hiking and biking trails. The park provides full-service marinas for fishermen and boaters, campgrounds and a beach for swimming below the Arkansas River dam. A bike trail leads directly to the Nature and Raptor Center along the Arkansas.
The exceptional Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC) at Pueblo Mountain State Park, a 611-acre park owned by the city of Pueblo, sets an example of public-private preservation partnership. Created as a public park in the 1920s when it was common for municipalities to buy public land, the park fell into disuse in the 1970s. In the ‘90s, the nonprofit MPEC, headed by Dave Van Manen, breathed life back into it.
Over the years, MPEC's green renovation of the Horseshoe Lodge provided classroom space plus dormitory and bed-and-breakfast space for visitors. Programming and events range from camps and school field trips to yoga retreats, family reunions and weddings. People often come in just to hike and explore the park's beauty, sometimes on guided trips via MPEC such as the Full Moon Hike.
Education became a major focus for Van Manen, his wife and their crew at MPEC.
“Like most front range cities, 15 years ago the vast majority of the kids in the area, often thanks to limited means, never got into the mountains,” Van Manen says. “Today, every fifth-grader in Pueblo comes out here for our Earth Studies program. We raised money, bought our own buses and work to reach kids on many levels -- academic, but also their attitudes toward nature and on building a sense of self esteem.”
Visitors to Pueblo Mountain Park can hike, cross country ski, fish and enjoy all the added value benefits of MPEC.
Raptors and Wildlife
Like the Mountain Park Environmental Center, the Nature and Raptor Center gives an almost magical sense of the natural world. A nature preserve with public trails, the center also encourages wildlife preservation by focusing on education, from geology to river and forest ecology and to wildlife rehabilitation. Visitors come to participate in day camps and school programs as well as to dine at the on-site restaurant. Weekend programming includes guided hikes, birding and fly fishing (a vending machine provides “Colorado’s smallest fly shop”).
The Raptor Center rescues injured birds of prey, rehabilitating some and caring for those that can’t be released again into the wild.
“The birds will surprise you,” says the center's John Gallagher. “We’re always excited to share all there is to learn about birds of prey and why we do what we do. We work hard to give them a fighting chance.”