The High Line Canal is already a Denver metro area gem. Spanning 71 miles and 860 acres from Denver International Airport to Waterton Canyon—an area larger than New York City’s Central Park—it follows an eponymous waterway built in the 1880s to bring South Platte River water to settlers and farmers. Nowadays, the nature corridor is best known for the recreational trail that spans its length, which is enjoyed by more than a million users annually, including runners, dog walkers, families, and cyclists.

The problem is that not all 71 miles of the High Line Canal have been created equally. The canal passes through 11 jurisdictions—including Douglas County, Denver, Aurora, and Littleton—and is itself owned by Denver Water. The hodgepodge of utility managers and municipal governments means that some areas of the canal haven’t gotten the attention they need with regard to maintenance and upkeep.

But that’s about to change. On March 15, the High Line Canal Conservancy, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to preserve, enhance, and protect the canal, announced that it’s on the cusp of receiving $100 million in investments that will help smooth out inequities along the path. Such improvements should include safer trail crossings, new bridges, road underpasses, neighborhood access points, better signage, more shade and seating, and small “pocket” parks where people can gather and play.

“It’s been an incredible community effort to come together and get this done,” says Harriet Crittenden LaMair, CEO of the High Line Canal Conservancy.

Roughly $67 million of the investment will come from local, state, and federal government funding sources—especially the Federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021—to tackle expensive engineering projects like safer underpasses at Yale Avenue and Quebec Street in Denver.

The remaining $33 million will come from the High Line Canal Conservancy as part of its Great Lengths Campaign, which it announced on Friday. This includes a $7 million award from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), a state program that uses proceeds from the Colorado Lottery to fund outdoors spaces, to improve the canal’s 28-mile-long northeast segment, which runs through Denver, Adams, and Arapahoe counties.

“Those are the areas with the highest need, the most diversity, and a historical underinvestment in open spaces and parks,” says LaMair.

Other money from the Great Lengths Campaign will focus on the southern areas of the trail. The High Line Canal Conservancy has detailed more than 23 prioritized trail projects.

A map of the High Line Canal Trail and proposed improvement projects.
Map courtesy of the High Line Canal Conservancy

GOCO’s announcement of its $7 million award on Friday created the impetus for the High Line Canal Conservancy to reveal is Great Lengths Campaign and plans for improvements all along the trail. But the nonprofit notes that it still actually must raise a final $1 million to reach its full $33 million budget.

LaMair is asking for community donations, but also appeared confident her nonprofit will raise the last $1 million needed when talking about how it will improve the trail in years to come. The High Line Canal Conservancy has already been successful in securing donations from large foundations such as the Anschutz Foundation and Gates Family Foundation. “Over the next five years, we’ll see all these improvements which will allow trail users to access the High Line Canal better,” she says.

A group of people planting a tree along the High Line Canal
Planting a tree along the High Line Canal. Photo courtesy of the High Line Canal Conservancy

Those promised investments, she also notes, have given confidence to Denver Water to eventually relinquish its ownership of the canal land and make sure it remains in public hands—a move that wasn’t always guaranteed, since the utility could have sold the land to developers and made a handsome profit.

“Over the next few years, maybe sooner, Denver Water is working to transfer ownership of the High Line Canal to local counties, to permanently protect it for public use,” LaMair says. “So it’s time to roll up our sleeves, because the High Line Canal’s best days are yet to come.”

Chris Walker
Chris Walker
Chris writes for various sections of 5280 as well as