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    Leading the Way in Green

    Boulder is a community dedicated to preserving natural open space, maintaining a clean and beautiful environment, and reducing pollution.

    Our Green History

    Boulder was first populated by miners who flocked to the area when gold was discovered in Boulder Canyon. The city’s beginnings date to 1859, when a group of foresighted settlers organized the Boulder City Town Company.

    In the early years, the town grew slowly, because lots were expensive and business was limited to trades which supplied the mining towns in the mountains. In 1873, railroads connected Boulder to other major areas. Between 1873 and 1880, the population tripled. The young community of Boulder began preserving land as early as 1898 with the purchase of the lovely area now known as Chautauqua Park.

    By the end of the 19th century, Boulder had established itself as a center for health, recreation, and culture. In 1896, the Seventh Day Adventists built a sanitarium for tubercular patients on Mapleton Hill. In 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua opened on a 26-acre site donated by the city of Boulder at the base of the foothills. It became a popular retreat during the summer months, and continues as one of only a few survivors of the national Chautauqua movement.

    With the population exceeding 6,000 by 1900, civic-minded residents began to plan for the future. An association was formed to develop parklands, and in 1908, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was commissioned to advise the city on improvement to its physical surroundings. Olmstead envisioned a high-quality environment, with residential areas kept isolated from industry, in order to maintain clean air where people lived. Olmsted’s report served as a guide for growth in the coming years.

    The “Blue Line”

    In 1910, it was the threat of an amusement park on the summit of Flagstaff Mountain, accessed by an inclined railway, that spurred concerned citizens to speak out. This led to the creation of long-range plans to protect Boulder’s mountain backdrop from development. Once again, in 1959, Boulder’s mountain living green backdrop was threatened by hotel and subdivision plans. Citizens spoke out to create a Charter Amendment to prohibit water service above a stated contour elevation, known as a “Blue Line.” A few notable exceptions have been made, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Flagstaff House.

    Realizing that the “Blue Line” was an important success, Boulder citizens decided to prevent further development by acquiring land before it was developed. 

    In 1967, Boulder became the first city in the United States to tax itself for the acquisition, management, and maintenance of open space.  

    In 1989, voters expanded the revenue stream. Boulder’s Open Space program, together with the City’s Parks program, has succeeded in protecting the scenic beauty and ecological integrity of the Boulder Valley. City and County Open Space programs now protect almost two-thirds of the County, commonly referred to as the “greenbelt.” The City has acquired over 45,000 acres of open space, while the County Open Space program now owns or oversees almost 89,000 acres. Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks maintain over 130 miles of trails, used by walkers, hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, dog walkers, and for nature study and photography. The County oversees more than 90 miles of trails.


    Boulder’s reputation as an environmental leader didn’t happen overnight or by accident. The early settlers learned from the Arapaho Indian Chief Niwot that preservation of the land, crisp mountain air, and clean pure water were resources to be respected. Since the mid-1800s, Boulder has instituted ground-breaking sustainable practices, ensuring the preservation of its land and lifestyle. Federal research labs, an innovative university, self-imposed taxation to purchase open space, curbside recycling, citywide mandated residential green codes, and a carbon tax, are all expressions of community values. Shopping malls have parking spots dedicated for hybrids, the soccer team is carbon-neutral, restaurants use locally-raised produce, and kindergarteners plant trees on Earth Day.


    Our History of Growth Management

    In the 1960s, when the City and County Open Space Programs were initiated, there were fewer than 130,000 people living in Boulder County. Now there are over 300,000. During the 1970s, Boulder adopted its first growth ordinance, limiting population growth to 2 percent, as well as passage of building height restrictions. In 1995, the population growth limit was changed to less than one percent, and in response to concerns about affordable housing, annual building permits were allocated equally between affordability ranges.

    Building Height Limitations

    In 1971, an effort was made to protect the view of Boulder's precious foothills. A charter amendment was created that limited the height of new buildings to 55 feet. Since then, the amendment has been modified to a new height of 35 feet. By exception, builders may extend to 55 feet, if approved by the planning board, for commercial, industrial and multifamily residential zones only.

    Green Points Building

    In 1996, the city of Boulder was the first municipality in the country to mandate a residential green code. The city’s Green Points Building program helps homeowners find the products and designs for building "green”. It encourages Boulder homeowners to include cost-effective and sustainable remodeling and building methods that conserve fossil fuels, water and other natural resources and promotes the recycling of construction materials to reduce solid waste and promote better indoor air quality. New home construction and additions over 500 square feet are required by city ordinance to participate in the Green Points program.

    In 2008, the Boulder County Commissioners approved the “Boulder County BuildSmart” residential green building program. Through education, regulation, and incentives, it will promote and encourage high performing sustainable development and redevelopment in the unincorporated areas of Boulder County.

    Recycling / Zero Waste

    Boulder was one of the first communities in the country to have curbside recycling, beginning in 1976, when a group of Eco-Cycle volunteers began collecting recyclable materials from residents in old, yellow school buses. In 1989, the city instituted the Trash Tax and took over the program, making it city-wide and expanded the types of recyclable materials collected. The trash tax funding helped expand the program into commercial recycling and hard-to-recycle material collection services. Eco-Cycle’s “Zero Waste” programs have expanded internationally, where they use Boulder as a model for other communities to follow. In 2008 Eco-Cycle implemented curbside commingled-single-stream recycling.

    Boulder County is committed to achieving “zero waste – or darn near” by 2025, with an initial goal of achieving 50% waste diversion for Boulder County government operations and the county as a whole by 2010. All of the county’s offices are equipped with mixed paper co-mingled container (glass, plastic, aluminum) recycling bins. Many offices also have composting bins for food waste and other biodegradable materials.

    The Resource Yard, a division of the Center for Resource Conservation, accepts donations of new and reusable building materials and then resells them to the public at great prices. The Resource Yard does a lot to keep our landfills free of perfectly good materials. It’s the definition of recycling.

    Smart Transit

    GO Boulder (Great Options in Transportation for Boulder) strives to develop innovative transportation programs, ongoing education and outreach to the community and a sustainable transportation system that supports it. Today, there are seven bus lines in the Community: Hop, Skip, Jump, Bound, Dash, Stampede and Bolt. Local ridership has increased over 200 percent between 1990 and 2007. Most buses are equipped with bike racks.

    City and County employees are encouraged to use alternative transportation by the availability of bus passes, carpooling options and bicycles for employees to check out and use during the day for short trips that would otherwise require a vehicle.

    The city fleet currently has 193 alternative fuel vehicles and equipment. The city continues to actively pursue the acquisition of alternatively fueled vehicles and the use of alternative fuels in support of the City Council’s environmental sustainability goal.

    Boulder County’s diesel trucks run on bio-diesel and are equipped with systems that limit air pollution. Boulder County began purchasing hybrid vehicles in 2001 and has since converted a total of 17 vehicles in its fleet to hybrid power. Boulder County will purchase three electric hybrids in 2008 and will convert them to plug-in so that they can charge their batteries using electricity harnessed through the County's solar power system installed at the downtown courthouse. These vehicles will utilize a 10-kilowatt solar array and electricity stored in the electric grid to charge their batteries.


    Healthy Beginnings

    Health seekers have always visited Boulder to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit. In 1896, the Seventh Day Adventists under John Kellogg (of the cereal family) opened the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium. The Sanitarium was labeled as a resort, with the features of a hospital, religious retreat, country club, and spa. Sanitarium doctors even prescribed health foods such as wheat flakes, granola, cereal coffee, zwieback, and a vegetarian diet.

    Organics and Natural Products

    Boulder is now home to the largest concentration of natural and organic products companies in the U.S. Companies such as Wild Oats Markets Inc. (recently purchased by Whole Foods), Hain-Celestial Seasonings, Izze Beverage Company, WhiteWave Foods, Silk Soymilk and Horizon Organic dairy products, and new start-ups like Pixie Mate, Pangea Organics and Fiona’s Granola. Boulder also has the highest per capita consumption of organic foods in North America, according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

    Healthy Workplace

    The Boulder facility of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recycles a host of materials daily and uses green cleaning products and recycled paper goods wherever possible. Native plants that require little water fill the landscaping. Fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides used on NOAA’s site are environmentally friendly. The NOAA Boulder work-life represents the Colorado healthy lifestyle culture in almost every way. Staff members enjoy the convenience of a workout room with up-to-date equipment and free noontime fitness classes. An onsite nursing station provides massages, smoking cessation programs, individual therapy sessions, and other healthy lifestyle services. Trails winding up to Boulder’s signature Flatirons Mountains offer opportunities for lunchtime runs. A large bicycle-only garage encourages staff members to use their daily commute for exercise and fun.

    Retail Stores

    Boulder is full of shops that support a healthy, active lifestyle. Patagonia, REI, Title Nine, Whole Foods, MontBell, RockyMounts, The Boulder Running Company (the best running store in the country), Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary, University Bicycles, Öm Time Yoga – all the places that locals and visitors need to sustain Boulder’s distinctive lifestyle. Not only do the shops support the lifestyle, but some of them even support Mother Earth. The Boulder REI store is a prototype for green building, and the Pearl Street Mall has solar Wi-Fi and many of the shops are wind-powered.

    Merchants within the University Hill Commercial District, or "the Hill," understand that going green is good for our environment and provides a competitive advantage in attracting and maintaining business customers. Six Hill restaurants are already reaping the rewards of composting all food waste, service containers and utensils.

    Farmers’ Market/Agritourism

    Boulder County hosts four farmer’s markets, and multiple farm stands. Boulder’s outdoor market opened in the autumn of 1986 and is the largest in the state. It is also the place to sit, watch the locals, and enjoy a prepared meal by a local chef.

    The Boulder Farmers’ Market was ranked No. 6 in the “Top 10 Farmers’ Markets” by Eating Well magazine in August 2007. 

    Foods such as vegetables, fruits, gourmet cheeses, wines, free-range chicken and meats are grown and raised here. There are over seventy organizations in Boulder – farms, dairies, ranches, markets, restaurants – that embrace the idea of local, seasonal, artisanal food.

    An Athlete’s Dream

    There are over 70 Olympians living in Boulder County. They are drawn to the area because of the altitude, the number of running and cycling trails and the supportive athletic culture. The world’s best rock climbers come to Eldorado Canyon State Park to climb the sheer walls.

    Boulder has been rated the top “Dream Town” by Outside magazine; best city for cycling by Bicycling magazine; and the top Triathlon Town by Inside Triathlon magazine.

    Team Garmin-Chipotle, a pro cycling team, led by national champions and Tour de France yellow-jersey-wearers, is based in Boulder. Their motto is “Ride Clean and Ride Hard.”

    The world’s first carbon neutral soccer team, the Colorado Rapids U-23, is based in Boulder. All the carbon emissions produced by the team, including cooking and travel, are offset by various modes of carbon reduction like reforestation, solar power, and wind power. Fans that travel to a game on a bicycle get a discount on admission. Fans and players sport jerseys with their motto: “Kick Global Warming.”

    The annual Bolder Boulder, the single largest one-day event in Boulder, was founded in 1978 and is now the second largest 10K road race in the U.S. In 2007, there were over 51,000 race participants. The organization estimates that their recycling endeavors resulted in the following natural resource conservation: 119 forty-foot Douglas fir trees saved, 195 million BTU energy saved, six metric tons of carbon emissions and 7.5 tons of water pollutants avoided, and 3200 gallons of gasoline saved.

    Renewable Energy

    In a visionary move to create the nation's first fully-integrated digital electricity system, Boulder and Xcel Energy will partner to bring to life a Smart Grid in the city of Boulder. In keeping with the city's reputation as a high tech hub and capitalizing on its environmental awareness, Boulder will become a proving ground for innovations that will enable residents and businesses to optimize the use of renewable energy sources, increase energy conservation options and minimize its collective environmental footprint. Smart Grid also promises to deliver more reliable energy, and businesses and residents in Boulder will experience fewer power outages and enhanced response times.

    Thousands of ConocoPhillips employees will soon be trained to learn about renewable and alternative energy in Boulder County. The company’s hub for research and development of renewable and alternative energy and high-tech carbon fuels recovery, scheduled to open in 2012, will be located in Louisville.

    Boulder City Council has approved a solar rebate ordinance that went into effect in December 2006. This solar rebate ordinance created a renewable energy fund. 35 percent of the renewable fund is dedicated to rebates on sales tax on solar systems installed in the city of Boulder.

    Boulder County has installed a 46-panel solar power system at its historic downtown Boulder courthouse and is currently in the engineering phase of planning the addition of solar power systems to numerous county-owned buildings. The completed 10kW Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panel system was installed to provide the electrical power required to charge four Plug-in Hybrid cars, which will be purchased in 2008 and will get about 100 miles per gallon. Electricity produced by the PV system feeds directly into the county’s downtown electrical system and is providing power for everyday operations until the cars come online.

    Boulder County Solar and Green Home Week, in early October, features a tour of solar and green homes, an Expo on green building, educational workshops and fun events.

    EcoArts is an event that brings together scientists and artists to talk about climate change and celebrate a sustainable future in a conversation sparked by the arts. Highlights have included art exhibitions, science activities for kids and adults, expos on sustainable living and even a Wind Parade.

    Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing forms of electricity generation in the world. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the United States' primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The National Wind Technology Center, a division of NREL, is located about 6 miles from Boulder.

    Climate and Weather Research

    Ever wonder where the weatherman gets his information? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder is a world leader in weather research.
    Weather Research

    NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists developed the workstation software used by every weather forecast office in the nation and are currently developing the nation’s next-generation weather forecast models. NOAA scientists are leading a five-year program in Northern California to improve forecasts of the heavy winter rains and snows that pound the West Coast every year and threaten major urban areas with catastrophic flooding. The project will gradually move across the country to solve forecasting problems in other highly populated, vulnerable areas. NOAA spaceweather scientists are extending their fine-scale computer model of the atmosphere as high as 600 kilometers above the ground. The model will be an important tool in extending accurate weather forecasts several weeks into the future.

    Severe weather can inflict enormous costs on society, and improving the accuracy of weather forecasts is a top goal of meteorologists around the world. Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its parent organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, make significant contributions to computer models, radars, satellites, and other instruments to help us better understand the atmosphere. Data from a new satellite system, known as COSMIC, are improving forecasts of hurricanes, while new mathematical techniques are extending the usefulness of radars that track thunderstorms and other potentially dangerous weather systems.

    NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center monitors the Sun and the space between the Sun and Earth 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Part of the National Weather Service, the center is the nation’s official source of space weather alerts and warnings.

    Nobel Prize Winners

    When the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, several dozen scientists and support staff at the National Center for Atmospheric Research(NCAR) shared the honor. The researchers served as authors or reviewers of IPCC reports showing that the planet is undergoing a rapid climate transition with significant societal and environmental impacts. NCAR also helped develop computer models used by IPCC authors around the world to simulate global climate.

    The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recognized the immense importance of science for the world’s well being. Boulder scientist Susan Solomon of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory co-chaired the latest scientific assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Solomon was invited to Sweden to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to the panel and to former vice president Al Gore. Solomon has spent her career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder. The IPCC technical support team for the latest scientific assessment was also based at the NOAA site here in Boulder. Scores of other NOAA Boulder scientists have participated in IPCC reports over the years as lead authors, contributors, and reviewers.

    Boulder scientists from the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) also received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Tingjun Zhang, from the NSIDC served as the lead author of the chapter "Observations: Changes in Snow, Ice and Frozen Ground" in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    Three physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have won the Nobel Prize in physics in the past 10 years. Two of them work in Boulder at JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    Climate Change

    If you’ve heard that Arctic sea ice is shrinking or that Greenland is melting, then you probably heard it from scientists in Boulder. Researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) are experts in polar climate change, sea level rise, and water and climate policy. They also monitor heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and they explore interactions between air quality, landscape morphology, and Earth’s climate. CIRES is jointly supported by NOAA and the University of Colorado at Boulder and is celebrating over 40 years of interdisciplinary, earth system research.

    Global warming has emerged as a top concern for society, with policymakers needing to know how much temperatures are going to increase and what measures can be taken to prevent severe environmental damage. At NCAR, scientists use some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to study the far-reaching impacts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on our atmosphere. They have advanced our understanding of the vulnerability of coral reefs and arctic sea ice, the impacts of a changing climate of specific regions in North America, and the benefits of dramatically reducing emissions over the next few decades.

    The Boulder City Council adopted the goals of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. In 2006 they adopted the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and CAP tax to fund implementation. The tax is sometimes referred to as the carbon tax, and its passage by Boulder voters garnered global recognition as Boulder was the first city to enact a carbon tax to address climate change.

    Climate change infuses every aspect of research activities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA has supported or led the monitoring of carbon dioxide for a half-century and provides authoritative data on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Researchers analyze extreme weather and climate to determine which can be linked to human activities affecting the natural climate. They travel to remote parts of the globe, such as the Arctic, to understand weather, climate processes, and chemistry that may be accelerating warming and melting or changing the climate in other ways.

    Research Facilities

    World-Class Scientists

    Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder solved the mystery of the ozone hole formation and produced the world’s longest continuous record of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere – the basis of worldwide research into human-produced climate change. The prestigious National Academy of Sciences has elected three NOAA Boulder scientists as members and another received the country’s top award, the National Medal of Science.

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a world-class research agency whose staff has received numerous awards and other honors for a wide range of accomplishments.

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Boulder campus is the largest NOAA research center in the nation. The facility houses 1,000 scientists, engineers, and others conducting cutting-edge research in topics including long-term climate change, climate patterns, severe weather, air quality, solar physics, sea-floor mapping, and nighttime lights. NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory is the nation's authoritative source for global carbon dioxide monitoring and the official source for warnings of solar storms that can disrupt GPS, communications, satellites, spacewalks, power grids, and aviation.

    Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

    From urban air quality to global sea level rise, over 550 scientists and students at the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) tackle today's most pressing environmental concerns, such as polar climate change, earthquake and tsunami hazards, drought, ecological impacts of pine beetle, and carbon policy. CIRES is the oldest and largest of NOAA's cooperative institutes and is home to the internationally-recognized National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

    Founded in 1960, NCAR plays a leading role in weather and climate research nationally and worldwide. NCAR and university scientists work together on research topics in atmospheric chemistry, climate, cloud physics and storms, weather hazards to aviation, and Sun-Earth interactions. In all of these areas, scientists are looking closely at the role of humans in both creating climate change and responding to severe weather occurrences. Tens of thousands of visitors each year come to NCAR’s world-renowned Mesa Laboratory, a scientific and architectural landmark designed by I.M. Pei.

    National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the United States' primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. Its areas of expertise are renewable electricity, renewable fuels, integrated energy systems and strategic energy analysis. It is located in Golden, Colorado, 25 miles south of Boulder.

    The National Wind Technology Center, a division of NREL, is located about 6miles from Boulder. It is the nation's premier wind energy technology research facility. At the NWTC, wind turbine developers work side by side with NREL researchers to create advanced wind systems, and manufacturers, wind plant operators, and utilities benefit from research and technical support that is second to none.

    National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

    NIST is a world-class research agency that develops precision measurement tools, data, and standards that enable innovation in all technology areas. NIST Boulder may be best known for building the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, which enable such diverse technologies as telecommunications networks, the Global Positioning System, and electric power distribution. NIST is a key agency in the American Competitiveness Initiative, which aims to substantially increase U.S. investment in physical sciences, enabling American superiority in technology innovation.

    Boulder Trails: Be Prepared


    Before you head out on the trails, be sure to cover yourself with sunscreen and bring a hat. Boulder is a mile closer to the sun than the sandy beaches on the coast, which means it’s easier to get a sunburn up here.

    Water and Food

    Our climate is very dry and it’s easy to get dehydrated. Be sure to take plenty of water with you. Drink often, even though you don’t feel thirsty. Bring along an energy bar or two in case your energy level drops or you spend more time on the trail because you’re having so much fun.

    Leave It As You Find It

    Picking flowers, collecting rocks, or picking berries may not seem to be a big deal, but it means others won’t have a chance to enjoy them.

    Stick to the Trail

    Traveling on trail leaves room for wildlife and their homes. Shortcutting trails causes erosion. Be ready to get muddy and step right through puddles. Boots dry overnight but plants take years to recover.

    Share Our Trails

    We all enjoy our open space and mountain parks in different ways. Pay attention, expect to encounter others, and please be courteous. Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program A new voice and sight dog tag program has been designed by the City of Boulder to help dog guardians understand voice and sight control standards and to reduce conflicts which can occur with visitors, other dogs and wildlife. If a dog is not registered by the City of Boulder, dogs must be leashed at all times.