There are times I feel like I’m chained to my laptop, hunkered down in my basement office, typing away on writing deadlines. I do get out on the trail quite often, but there are those weeks – those weeks where I feel like I’m slipping into desk monkey mode. My mind starts getting itchy for fresh air and the sound of dirt under my boots.
On those days a trip to the canyon is out of the question. A mountain hike is unattainable because there’s just not enough time in the day. Thankfully, we live in Fort Collins where there’s a Natural Area just a hop skip and a jump away from your front door. It’s amazing, really.
Thanks to dedicated taxes set aside just for our Natural Areas program, the City’s Natural Areas Department manages 44 sites, with more than 110 miles of trails, and over 36,000 acres. We are fortunate to have plentiful urban nature options to choose from. This gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy some space in nature, no matter where they live, no matter their economic status, their physical abilities, or how how busy they are.
Natural Areas are a big part of living here. I absolutely love that I can hike, fish, or ride the trails so close to my home. Arapaho Bend Natural Area is just a short jaunt from home, so on those days that I really need to get out into some greenery, this is my go-to Natural Area.
Arapaho Bend Natural Area is a unique recreational option surrounded by the buzz of I-25 and the Harmony Transit Center. While city life is running full speed ahead, Arapaho Bend provides a space to take a break and notice the urban nature that still surrounds you, despite the fact. There’s about 4 miles of trail to explore in the area, including the new paved trail around Ridgen Reservoir. Here’s the PDF trail map.
This is a particularly popular fishing spot for in-the-know fisherpeople. There are some great spots to catch big browns in the Poudre River. Species present in the ponds include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, wiper, bluegill, black crappie, white crappie, channel catfish, yellow perch, black bullhead, gizzard shad, white sucker, and common carp. The ponds are stocked by Colorado Parks and Wildlife with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, wiper, bluegill, black crappie, and channel catfish.
Because of its visibility from both I-25 and Harmony Road, this natural area site was highly valued for billboard advertising. At one time there were eight billboards on the property; however, by 2005 all billboards had been removed as required by the purchase agreement. It also used to be an illegal dumping ground, but fortunately, the area has been restored and is taken care of by Natural Area volunteers.
The most notable historical asset in the area is Strauss Cabin and the abandoned goat farm on the corner. Often rumored to be one of the most haunted or scary places in town, you’ll see no trespassing signs to discourage ghost hunters and curious teens.
The Strauss Cabin was built by George Robert Strauss in 1860 after moving from North Carolina. With only four other settlers along the Poudre, Strauss is counted as one of the earliest settlers in the area. Strauss witnessed the last Arapaho to camp in the area, and in 1862, he saw the remains of an Indian hung in a large cottonwood tree, thus the origins of the Hell Tree myth.
The area flooded in May 1904 and 73 year old Strauss was forced out of his home. He wasn’t strong enough to escape the powerful water and was carried downstream. He ended up trapped against a fence where he spent the night. James Strang, his nearest neighbor, found Strauss the following morning and took him to his cabin. The Strang family tried to revive Strauss, but the pioneer lived for only a few hours. Strauss was the only fatality during the flood.
His cabin remained abandoned for decades, and eventually restored in 1997. Although, shortly thereafter in 1999, it was burned down in arson by three teens. The cabin ruins were closed to the public from 1999-2012. The Natural Areas Department acquired the property from Larimer County and cleaned up the site with the help of volunteers, including improving the pedestrian access bridge where you can see the ruins from the trail (without trespassing).
Hiking, Biking, And Horseback Riding
This used to be one of the least-populated Natural Areas in Fort Collins, but I think that’s quickly changing with our population growth on the southeast side of the city. There were times I had the whole area to myself, now you’ll find plenty of people on a nature walk, trail running, mountain biking, and taking their horses out on the trail. It’s still not as busy as Maxwell Natural Area, but it’s on people’s radar now.
The section nearest the Harmony Transit Center and the Beaver Pond has better mountain biking options than the flat sections by the bass ponds.
While you’re out there, you can see Bald Eagles in the winter migrating to nest in nearby trees, Blue Heron on the river banks, huge white American Pelicans migrating to the reservoir in the spring (they’re there now!), and a plethora of other birds to view.
There’s also frogs, toads, and turtles to see near the waters, bullsnakes and rattlesnakes in the grass, and fox, deer, and other urban animals running along the trails throughout the year.
Despite being so close to I-25, and Wal-Mart, for that matter, Arapaho Bend Natural Area is a fun space to escape the drudgery of busy life for a natural urban escape.