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Controversial Rocky Flats Trails Being Used Before Official Opening

By Rick Sallinger

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is not supposed to be open to the general public until this fall, but CBS4 has found that anyone can now just walk right into the former nuclear weapons site through at least one future trailhead entrance.

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For 40 years, the triggers for hydrogen bombs were created on this land. It has been off limits until now. The refuge is being created on what was the buffer zone.

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Required signage notes that was an historic Cold War site and there was a Superfund clean up.

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Alesya Casse, a Rocky Flats Refuge opponent, says there is a signed 2007 agreement that dictates certain wording, and it's not on the sign.

"You know it's missing the words 'plutonium,' and it's missing 'accidents' and it's missing 'dangerous,'" she said.

The sign reads that the refuge is safe for recreation, as government officials have repeatedly insisted.

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Dave Lucas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told CBS4 last year, "We would not open up Rocky Flats if we did not think it was safe for employees and the public."

The refuge surrounds what was the Central Operable Unit of the nuclear weapons factory. That land is still part of the Superfund cleanup.

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There's a number to call with questions about the refuge. CBS4's Rick Sallinger did and was told the trail system isn't open yet. He noted to the person on the phone that the entrance is "wide open."

In fact there was a cyclist on Wednesday going for a ride on a former nuclear site that's not yet open for business.

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When asked why anyone could walk right in, the Fish and Wildlife Service responded with the following statement:

These are public lands and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) looks forward to formally opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge or NWR) to public access in fall 2018. We are actively finalizing some minor improvements, such as installation of trail signage, in anticipation of the Refuge's formal opening to unguided visitation and exploration on designated trails. 

We hope that members of the public continue to respect the fact that the Refuge is not yet formally open to unguided visitation, even though we are not preventing people from entering these public lands at designated entry points where trail signage has been installed. 

Refuge staff members have been offering a limited number of monthly wildlife tours since June 2015. We estimate about 1,200 people have since visited Rocky Flats NWR on guided nature hikes, government tours, and media tours - including volunteers who assist with wildlife surveys, plant identification, and invasive species management. 

We're happy to take you on a tour of the Refuge so you can experience these public lands, plants, and wildlife for yourself. We're also happy to set up an on-background interview with the Refuge manager and facilitate the opportunity to capture behind-the-scenes b-roll footage of the Refuge in anticipation of its formal opening in fall 2018. 

We cannot speak to ongoing litigation, but we can put you in touch with the Department of Justice if you have any questions regarding legal matters. 

We are working to open the Rocky Flats NWR to public access in autumn 2018 because we are confident in the conclusions and recommendations of state and federal public health experts indicating that the area is safe for public use. We welcome the opportunity for visitors to enjoy these public lands – and the wide variety of habitats, wildlife, and recreational opportunities available – less than an hour's drive from Denver and 30 minutes from Boulder. Our mission is to provide accessible wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities in an urban setting to people of all ages and abilities.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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