High Creek Fen: Both a Glacial Remnant & Biologic Hot Spot

We continue to explore the varied landscape of South Park — the future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library. Recently we went on a field trip sponsored by the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spending an entire day at their High Creek Fen Preserve.

What’s a fen? Well by the end of the day (and with the expert guidance of TNC trip leader John Sanderson) we knew that this wild landscape was kept mucky by a constant groundwater flow. We also crouched low to identify several globally rare plant species, and several that can only be found in the great boreal north. In fact, High Creek Fen contains more rare plant species than any other wetland known in Colorado.

As much as we learned about that glorious high mountain landscape, we came home anxious to know more. Luckily we came across an incredibly informative website, The aapa mire. Much of what follows is from Joe Rocchio’s post, High Creek Fen: A Pocket of Unique Beauty & Diversity in the Southern Rocky Mountains:


After pulling out of Fairplay and driving south on Hwy. 285, a strange cluster of spruce trees appears….completely out of place amidst the short-grass steppe of South Park’s valley floor.

High Creek Fen emerges from the high montane steppe revealing an immense area of wet ground. Hummocks, pools, rivulets, and a creek; spruce trees, willows, bog birch, bulrushes, sedges, cottongrass, and aquatic plants all blanket the area.
joe's photo
Although early botanical explorers had visited the site, it is a bit astonishing that the significance of High Creek Fen as a refugia for glacial relics and haven for rare critters went unnoticed until 1990 when Dr. David Cooper recognized the unique character and biodiversity significance of this ecological Eden.photo by Joe Rocchio

And here’s just a couple of the wetland plants that we saw on our day at the fen:

Salix candida
Carex viridula (green sedge) found along water tracks, sedge lawns, and at the base of hummocks. photo by Joe Rocchio

Packera pauciflora
Packera pauciflora (few flowered ragwort) found in wet meadows. photo by Joe Rocchio


We found a shady spot for lunch, and heard more about the history of the fen from TNC’s John Sanderson. After David Cooper’s discovery of High Creek Fen’s globally important biodiversity, The Nature Conservancy led a campaign to protect it, eventually purchasing the property, while keeping it open for public tours and further study.


After lunch, John took us to the edge of one of the soggiest stretches of the fen. We found lots more aquatic plant species, along with rare insect inhabitants. (Joe Rocchio’s post reports that nine aquatic beetles have been found here not known elsewhere in Colorado).

And we’re happy to report that none of our field trip participants took a spill in this hummocky uncertain terrain!

Toward the end of the day, a storm system came out of the high peaks to the West, so it was off to the waiting cars, but not before taking one last look at a remarkable place:

We loved our day on High Creek Fen! And it’s exciting to think that the Land Library’s future home (Buffalo Peaks Ranch, pictured below) has a smaller, but still significant fen of its own!
buffalo peaks ranch

Give yourself a treat and be sure to visit Joe Rocchio’s aapa mire website, along with his satellite site, The Geography of Home, full of stunning images of Western landscapes!

In thanks to Joe Rocchio’s partnership in this post, we close with these apt words from the aapa mire site: “Spending the day at High Creek Fen is an easy way to get lost — in time and space. There are very few wetlands, let alone fens, in the Southern Rocky Mountains as large and as diverse as this site. Although I have never been to the true boreal or arctic reaches of the North American continent, when I’m immersed in High Creek Fen’s wilderness I definitely feel as if I’m in those far northern landscapes — and very far from anything I have ever experienced.

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One thought on “High Creek Fen: Both a Glacial Remnant & Biologic Hot Spot

  1. Pingback: Quickly Becoming a Fan of Fens « Rocky Mountain Land Library

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