United States

The American part of the project (‘The Nature of the Unexpected: Paradoxical Wildlife Reserves in the western United States’) focuses on two sites near Denver, Colorado - the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Rocky Mountain Arsenal (10 miles northeast of Denver), which extends across 17,000 acres, produced a bevy of chemical weaponry between 1942 and 1982 (private companies also leased parts of the site to manufacture pesticides). Rocky Flats (16 miles northwest of Denver; 400-acre core plant, 6,000-acre buffer zone) manufactured plutonium triggers between 1952 and 1992. The ecological value of these highly toxic sites became increasingly apparent during the 1980s. For beyond their heavily polluted and relatively small cores, these sites were protected from the customary processes of economic development and population growth that transformed the natural world elsewhere in Colorado. In the early 1990s, Denver’s Urban Design Forum described Rocky Mountain Arsenal as ‘the nation’s most ironic nature park.’ (At the same time, the place of the displaced, pre-military human past within this re-naturing process - the area was homesteaded in the 1880s - remains unclear.) An ambitious clean-up and remediation project was launched at Rocky Mountain in 1996 and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (authorized by Congress in 1992) was officially designated in 2004 under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A clean-up has also been conducted at Rocky Flats and 4,000 acres of the site became the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in July 2007.