JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge opened new, unguided trails to the public on Saturday as scheduled.
Roya Mogadam, the deputy assistant director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region office, originally said Friday the opening would be delayed. In an email, Mogadam said the decision to postpone came from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
“Secretary Zinke has heard concerns about the opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and has decided to delay the opening to gather additional information. The Secretary has asked Deputy Secretary [of the Interior] Bernhardt to look into this matter,” Mogadam said.
Later Friday afternoon, Mogadam sent the following statement to FOX31 and Channel 2:
“The Deputy Secretary has reviewed the refuge and determined it will open tomorrow as scheduled,”
People and groups who had been fighting to keep people away from Rocky Flats were thrilled with the initial announcement.
“(I was) elated, like now way,” said Alesya Casse, the director of the Anti-Rocky Flats group Candelas Glows. “My co-workers were high-fiving me, giving me props on all the hard work.
But when the second statement came out, Casse told FOX31 she was not surprised.
“This is what we’re up against,” she said. “We’re up against big money and other sorts of interests that we just can’t quite understand. It defies all common sense.”
Meanwhile, Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Energy, which operated the nuclear facility, have maintained it does make sense to open the trails.
“There is no concern about people utilizing this place,” said David Lucas, the refuge manager, as he took FOX31 on a tour of the trails before they opened. “We believe it’s safe for our employees and our visitors.”
The wildlife refuge is a former nuclear weapons facility where 10.3 miles of new trails were planned to be opened Saturday. The plant manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs between 1952 and 1989.
According to the Associated Press, the area where plutonium was processed underwent a $7 billion cleanup but remains closed to the public. A buffer zone surrounding the manufacturing site was turned into a refuge.
Rocky Flats is part of the larger Rocky Mountain Gateway, which includes public lands manages by a number of Denver metro-area cities as well as the National Park Service.
Last month, a judge decided the public would not be barred from using the refuge. A lawsuit had been filed claiming the government had not conducted enough research to determine whether the area was safe for public use.