KUSA – Where Boulder, Jefferson and Broomfield counties converge northwest of Denver, you’ll find land that hasn’t been disturbed in decades and wildlife roaming free.

“I can see some of this year’s calves – yearlings hiding in there,” said David Lucas gesturing toward the elk herd that had just crossed in front of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service van.

Lucas was leading a media tour Tuesday afternoon of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

“There’s very few spots where we have over 632 plant species,” said Lucas, who manages the refuge. “We have hundreds of bird species, we have all sorts of large and small mammals. I mean, it’s an amazing resource that was able to be protected here within the Denver metro area.”

“Refuge” is the latest moniker for the site 16 miles northwest of Denver that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been protecting since 2005.

“We have histories dating back to the Native American times,” Lucas said. “We have homesteaders, we have a Cold War era where the U.S. government was here producing nuclear weapons. Then we had a massive cleanup effort.”

It took 25 years and $7 billion to clean up the site of the Rocky Flats Plant, one of 13 U.S. nuclear production facilities that operated between 1952 and 1994. Over the years, the plant produced tens of thousands of triggers for nuclear weapons.

In 1989, the plant was shut down and added as an EPA Superfund site. The Department of Energy still manages more than a thousand acres at the center of what is now the wildlife refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to open the refuge to the public in early 2018.

“We’re talking about hiking, biking, equestrian uses, birdwatching, photography, interpretive hikes,” said David Lucas.

Groups like “Rocky Flats Downwinders” argue the site where nuclear weapons were built still isn’t safe and shouldn’t be used for recreation.

“We recognize and fully support that people have different opinions about that and what that means to us,” said Lucas. “But we also support the scientists and the cleanup effort that came out here and rely upon them to inform us.”

“Rocky Flats Downwinders” is working with a professor from Metro State University on a survey to study the health impacts of the Rocky Flats Plant. Professor Carol Jensen said she hopes to have results published sometime in mid-November.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host the first of four public sharing sessions on Thursday, October 6th. The session will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Parkview Swim and Fitness Club at 19865 W. 94th Avenue.