By the year 2020, Denver''s population will balloon by 25 percent to 5 and a half million people. That means more cars, more industry and more smog.
Until recently, Denver had been regarded as a shining example of a metro area, which had cleaned up once hazy skies.
But, according to Tim Sullivan of the Environmental Defense, this summer, that image received a disappointing setback. "We had the worst air ozone problems than we've seen in a generation. We were surprised to see how high it went."
The Environmental Protection Agency has given state health officials until April 15 to get a grip on the smog they thought they had under control. They are poised to designate 11 counties across northern Colorado as "non-attainment areas," meaning these are high pollution zones.
Among the areas threatened by the creeping brown cloud, one of the country's most beautiful national parks.
Last summer, for the first time, people enjoying the breathtaking views of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park were also breathing smog concentrations above what's considered safe by the E.P.A. And, according to Richard Long, the air is expected to get worse before it gets better. "They're scrambling right now, using the best scientific tools available to them to actually identify the nature of the problem ... what can be done about it."
The park doesn't generate the smog. State health officials, like Doug Benevento, suspect it is coming from oil and gas exploration and from traffic congestion as Denver's bedroom communities sprawl north along highways near Rocky Mountain National Park. Even so, they assure us there's no health risk to one of Colorado's favorite tourist spots. "I can't think there would be a cause for concern about going to Rocky Mountain National Park."
In addition to Rocky Mountain National Park, there are potential smog problems to other outdoor treasures including Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains.