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Aug 14, 2020


Often the term “urban” brings to mind sprawling concrete communities filled with skyscrapers, smog and traffic jams. Because of that, urban and nature don’t seem simpatico. However, at the High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC), located within The Lakes at Centerra in Loveland, Colorado and surrounded by beautiful new homes, there is an amazing urban environmental park open to the public from sunrise to sunset seven days a week, 365 days a year.

HPEC is nestled in Centerra’s 3,500-acre mixed-use, master-planned community, which at build-out will be home to an estimated 10 to 15 thousand people. At the same time, twice as many will work in Centerra. With a dense population around it, the HPEC is an urban natural area that brings balance to the region. HPEC feels remarkably spacious and natural amid surrounding suburbia.

For The Lakes residents, HPEC is just one unique nature element to complement 76 acres of land, three miles of trails and two pristine lakes. An additional 200 acres make this a home that is Certified Wild.

In 1907, Hout’s Reservoir and Equalizer Lake were dug in the area in order to store water for irrigation and have since become a valuable habitat for migratory waterfowl that nest there every year such as western grebes. HPEC creates a safe harbor for local birds and animals. Houts Reservoir, the northern lake, is open seasonally for limited non-motorized boating so locals can enjoy an evening canoe ride as the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains and an up-close-and-personal experience with wildlife.

To kayak or canoe on the lake, however, residents must register their watercraft online before launching it into Houts Reservoir. Once submitted, a permit sticker is issued that must be affixed to the watercraft. For more information about requirements and precautions, boaters are encouraged to visit The Lakes resident portal.

“You can’t talk about conservation on one hand and development on the other as if they were two unrelated issues because they’re not,” said Hoyt, proving development and conservationism can go hand-in-hand.


HPEC’s Heart in the Earth

At the heart of the HPEC is the belief that human alterations to a landscape can have beneficial impacts on wildlife. The two are not mutually exclusive. Development in Northern Colorado and elsewhere could have a significant beneficial impact on wildlife if it is planned and implemented well.

Throughout the last 40 years, there has been a 60 percent decline in bird populations throughout the Northern Colorado region and elsewhere in the country. This big number is a stark reminder that poorly planned developments have a negative impact and a corresponding loss of habitat is often the result. The Lakes residents often have a deep connection to the community and the natural area they reside and recreate in.

Fortunately, HPEC is committed to preserving Colorado’s unique natural beauty within our growing urban areas and cultivating a conservation ethic so the region remains healthy for future generations of The Lakes to enjoy.


WildZone Spotlight

One of the main highlights of the HPEC is the WildZone, an experimental outdoor classroom where children can partake in self-directed learning and foster a love of nature. Thanks to HPEC’s valuable volunteers, the WildZone is always evolving.

The inception for the WildZone concept stems from Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” 2007 study which links the lack of nature in children’s lives to the rise in obesity, depression and attention disorders. Louv also identified a link between exposure to the outdoors and nature and healthy childhood physical, social and emotional development. Based on this study, the WildZone at HPEC was created.

Children who visit the WildZone are encouraged to participate in unstructured play in various components of the natural amenities which include:

  • Rock Mountain – Composed of rocks, sticks and the Willow Tunnel, where children dig to find treasures.
  • The Nest Tree – A human-sized nest in a tree, great for climbing and feeling like a bird!
  • The Toad’s Tea Party – Take a break in live willow chairs, complete with stump tables, that overlook the WildZone.
  • Tree Trunk Bridge – Check out the stormwater pond’s aquatic life from log “bridges” and stumps.
  • Shelter and Shoreline Discovery – Along Houts Reservoir, stand on the dock to view the wildlife that call the lake home.


Annual Native Plant Sale

This year’s Native Plant Sale held by HPEC went digital to ensure safety and physical distancing with COVID-19. And as it turns out, this year was the most successful sale ever. During the spring, HPEC grew and sold the equivalent of the last three years of plant sales combined. Following that success, HPEC is continuing to sell plants while supplies last.

With a mission of restoring nature where we live, work and play, the HPEC annual Native Plant Sale is a great way to educate the community, while also creating replicable “living laboratories” which demonstrate restorative examples of land-stewardship, native plants and wildlife habitat.

HPEC’s Native Plant Sale offers nearly 60 different varieties of local plants, grasses and flowers at an incredibly reasonable price of $5 per item. All plants come in 3.5-inch pots and take two to three days to prepare. You may pick-up your order Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the pickup window located at the HPEC, 2698 Bluestem Willow Dr. Loveland, CO while supplies last.

Why buy native plants? There are many benefits when you plant native including conserving water, supporting native wildlife and helping pollinators. That’s right, bees love those native flowers too!


Upcoming Events

Part of HPEC’s mission is to educate and inform the community about the natural beauty that The Lakes at Centerra residents enjoy on a daily basis. When walking around the lake or neighborhood, we want people to know the names of flowers or birds that they see. HPEC offers residents educational classes on everything from gardening to birding.

Unfortunately, due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, HPEC has canceled indoor activities for the summer, however, there are still some great outdoor events you can participate in.

  • Community Garden – Plots are free and available to members of High Plains Environmental Center and The Lakes at Centerra residents. Learn more.
  • Monthly Bird Banding – Join us on the first Saturday of each month for a Bird Banding program with Scott Rashid, Director of the Colorado Avian Research and Rehabilitation Institute. All ages are welcome and no registration is needed. Learn more.
  • Monthly Bird Walks – Whether you’re a seasoned birder or an amateur, join Sheila Webber for a bird walk around Equalizer Lake on the first Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., February-November in 2020. Learn more.

For more information on HPEC programs or events call 970-622-9676 or email info@suburbitat.org.


Upcoming Events

Sat. Nov 13, 2021
 - Sun. Jan 2, 2022
Winter Wonderlights

Winter Wonderlights™ returns for the 2021 holiday season from Saturday, November 13, 2021 through Sunday, January 2, 2022 at the Chapungu Sculpture Park at Centerra in Loveland, Colorado just east of the Promenade Shops retail center at U.S. Hwy. 34 and I-25. Each night, visitors can walk through the beautiful park and enjoy 80,000 lights including […]

Chapungu Sculpture Park - Centerra and Kendall Parkways
Loveland, CO 80538
Sat. Dec 4, 2021
 - Sat. Dec 18, 2021
Santa’s Workshop

Santa is coming to Centerra and hopes you will visit him in his Workshop at Chapungu! REGISTER HERE About this event Deck the halls and trim the trees, Santa’s coming to Centerra! Meetup outdoors with the jolly ol’ man and his elves at Chapungu Sculpture Park on Dec. 4, 11 or 18, from 12 – 4 p.m. Share […]

12:00pm - 4:00pm
Chapungu Sculpture Park - Centerra and Kendall Parkways
Loveland, CO 80538
Sat. Dec 4, 2021
December Bird Banding & Bird Walk

Scott Rashid, Director of the Colorado Avian Research and Rehabilitation Institute (CARRI), will join us for a lively bird-banding demonstration beginning at 2:00 pm. This is a wonderfully interactive and educational citizen-science opportunity for the whole family. Songbirds are caught in mist nets, and carefully measured and banded. Depending on the number of birds that […]

2:00pm - 4:00pm
High Plains Environmental Center - 2698 Bluestem Willow Drive, Loveland, CO
Loveland, CO 80538


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