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COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE

  
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Aiken Canyon El Paso County1,600 acres1994
State Land Board/ Leased by The Nature Conservancy

The Aiken Canyon Natural Area includes the largest intact foothills ecosystem known from the Front Range. The area contains one woodland and two foothills shrubland plant communities of special concern. Aiken Canyon also contains an unusual diversity and concentration of wildlife. Mountain lion, black bear, wild turkey, elk, golden eagles and an abundance of neotropical migratory birds are present in the area. The ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir along streams and on the rugged canyon walls have not been logged, unlike most of the Front Range.

To learn more about Aiken Canyon, visit, The Nature Conservancy's website.

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Antero-Salt Creek Park County8,520 acres2010
State Land Board

The Antero-Salt Creek Natural Area is home to several rare habitat types in Colorado: perched wetlands supporting fen-like vegetation, alkaline marshes and salt springs. Together these habitats house several state and globally imperiled plant species, and provide seasonal homes for rare birds and butterflies. The following is an excellent description of the property provided by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program:

"This area was given the name 'bayou salado' by French explorers due the presence of salts. The plants and plant communities that dominate the alkaline flats are salt-tolerant species...The surrounding uplands are dominated by montane grasslands."

The Natural Area encompasses portions of multiple named and un-named creeks that flow off the eastern flanks of the Buffalo Peaks and Trout Creek Pass into the Antero Reservoir. The property has good connectivity with forested and riparian systems located on Pike National Forest to the west.

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Arikaree River Yuma County2,240 acres2012
State Land Board

The Arikaree River Natural Area is part of the largest and best remaining example of a naturally functioning Great Plains river system in Colorado. Several native and uncommon species of amphibians, fish and reptiles reside within the near-pristine habitat that includes high-quality native prairie and riparian plant communities. The area is also home to birds, including ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls and greater prairie chickens, and serves as a meeting ground for many bird species from the eastern and western United States.

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Badger Wash Mesa County1,904 acres1989
Bureau of Land Management

Badger Wash consists of an entire small watershed that has been used for hydrologic research for more than 30 years. Biologic values include high-quality examples of a cold desert shrubland community (mat saltbush/saline wild rye) and populations of the rare plants Astragalus musiniensisEriogonum contortum and Cryptantha elata.

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Blue Mountain Larimer County292 acres 1983
Private

This natural area includes an exposure of the Blue Mountain Fault, providing a clear example of drape or drag faulting and of stratigraphic pinch-out of two Permian formations (Satanka and Ingleside). The zone of mingling between the alluvial fan of the ancestral Rockies and the sand beaches of the ancestral sea is clearly visible. Physaria bellii, ​a rare, narrow endemic, is found in two places on the property.

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Bonny Prairie Yuma County50 acres1988
Bureau of Reclamation; leased by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Bonny Prairie Natural Area supports a remnant of the loess prairie community, an ecosystem that may once have covered millions of acres in the central United States. Loess, the key element of this prairie, is a fine rock powder that results from the grinding of rocks beneath glaciers. When the ice sheet that covered much of North America eighteen thousand years ago melted, billions of tons of loess were exposed. Wind carried the loess to distant areas and, along with water, shaped the soft deposits into bluffs and rolling hills.

Loess deposits themselves are not rare; however, deep deposits and undisturbed areas with native vegetation are unusual. Because loess soils are fertile and easily tilled, this land was eagerly sought and cultivated as the midwest was settled. Extensive areas in Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa which formerly supported this community type are now devoted to the cultivation of corn and wheat. It is estimated that the little bluestem loess prairie community represented at Bonny Prairie now covers only about 35% or less of its former range. Although the community probably was once common in southeast Yuma and northeast Kit Carson counties, the prairie at Bonny Prairie Natural Area is one of the few fragments of remaining intact loess prairie known in Colorado today.

Upland loess prairies are typically dominated by warm-season grasses of medium height, especially little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). The relatively lush and tall little bluestem prairie at Bonny stands in contrast to the sparse, sandy shortgrass prairie that dominates much of eastern Colorado.

Bonny Prairie was designated as a Colorado Natural Area in order to recognize and protect this unusual biological community and to provide a critical ecological baseline area for the loess region of the Great Plains. 

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Boulder Mountain Park Boulder County7,401 acres2009
City of Boulder, Open Space & Mountain Parks

Boulder Mountain Park is located along the foothills-plains interface just west of the City of Boulder. This Natural Area encompasses Green Mountain, Longs Canyon, the Boulder Flatirons, and the Western Mountain Parks Habitat Conservation Area. All of these areas represent a rich ecotonal area between the mountains and the plains, and create a large habitat for a variety of species.

These management areas support typical examples of modern foothills community types as well as plant species left over from the cooler and wetter conditions prevalent during the last ice age. Among the plant relicts are a stand of paper birch and disjunct populations of boreal and subalpine plants. The property contains a high concentration of rare plants, including one extremely rare plant. There are also several rare birds, mammals and insects that call this park home. At this site, visitors can walk through 1.5 billion years of geologic history and view the renowned Boulder Flatirons.

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Brush Creek Fen Custer County  9 acres2003
Private

An unusual wetland, Brush Creek Fen is on a shallow ridge between North and South Brush creeks, yet does not receive water from either creek. Rather, underground springs slowly release water into the fen’s upper wet meadows, forming small freshets that finger through the lower meadows. The waters likely remain perched on the higher ridge due to an impermeable subsurface lens. The fen is dominated by beaked sedge (Carex utriculata), with Idaho bent grass (Agrostis idahoensis) abundant. Peat is sporadic (some quaking), mixed with thin rocky soils supporting blue and occasional Englemann spruce. Wood lily, Hypoxis hirsuta, Carex leptalea, an Alnus/Picea plant community, and nesting Lewis woodpecker can be found at this site.

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California Park Routt County640 acres2002
State Land Board

California Park provides nesting habitat for a large number of state-rare greater sandhill cranes, historic state-endangered boreal toad breeding, and is the only area in Colorado where the three native species of grouse occur together: Columbian sharp-tailed, blue and northern sage.

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Castlewood Canyon Douglas County2,170 acres   1994
Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Castlewood Canyon marks the descent of Cherry Creek from the north rim of the Palmer Divide. This natural area supports one of the best remnants of northern Black Forest plant communities, including unlogged forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, Gambel oak thickets, and grasslands of mixed prairie and foothills species. Several plant species of special concern have been found within the park boundaries, including Woodsia mexicana (Mexican woodfern), Asplenium septentrionale (grass-fern), and Smilax lasioneuron (carrion-flower). An unusual dryland heron rookery and a turkey vulture roosting site are among the zoologic features of the park.

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Chalk Bluffs Weld County640 acres2001
State Land Board

This natural area is a small portion of an extensive area in northern Colorado where the barren outcrops of the Ogallala, Fox Hills and Arikaree Formations known as the Chalk Bluffs dominate the landscape. The western site is on the Wyoming border north of Greeley and east of I-25. The eastern site is in northwestern Logan and northeastern Weld counties. Lesser outcrops extend between the two sites and also form the northern bluffs of the S. Platte River valley in eastern Logan County.

The cliffs are protected from fire by their barrenness, and thus support outlying populations of foothills plant species such as ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, limber pine, and mountain mahogany. These montane plants combine with prairie grasses to form communities unique to the escarpment. Clay lenses within the sandstone layers support a different type of barrens community, one dominated by hard cushion plants such as Stenotus armerioides and Tetraneuris acaulis and the rare plants Cryptantha cana and Parthenium (Bolophyta) alpinum. The rocks are rich in Miocene, Eocene and Paleocene vertebrate fossils, and the bluffs support a high concentration of nesting raptors.

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Colorado Tallgrass Prairie Boulder County269 acres1984
City of Boulder, Open Space & Mountain Parks

The Colorado Tallgrass Prairie Natural Area consists of eight small parcels located along the broad floodplain of South Boulder Creek. The properties contain the largest known area of the once-extensive xeric and mesic native tallgrass prairies in Colorado. These tallgrass prairie remnants support flora similar to the prairies of South Dakota, Kansas, and the Midwest, including big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and yellow Indiangrass (Sorgastrum nutans). The grassland also supports a wide variety of wildlife from spirited songbirds to elusive mountain lions.

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Comanche Grassland Lesser Prairie Chicken Baca County9,210 acres1987
U.S. Forest Service

This Comanche National Grassland site historically contained prime habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken as well as the largest concentration of leks (mating display grounds) for the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Colorado. The dense sandsage community on the site provided critical habitat for this state-listed threatened species. This species has not been observed on the Natural Area for several years.  

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Copeland Willow Carr Boulder County 80 acres2005
City of Longmont

This wetland is the largest and highest quality lower montane willow carr on the Front Range. Major wetland functions provided by the willow carr are wildlife habitat, shoreline stabilization, sediment trapping, production export, and floodwater storage. On-site censuses indicate that this riparian community has one of the most diverse assemblages of breeding bird species in Colorado. The area also provides habitat for beaver, the endangered boreal toad, and the threatened greenback cutthroat trout (state fish of Colorado). Potential exists for these animals to be reintroduced.

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Cross Mountain Canyon Moffat County2,160 acres1997
Bureau of Land Management

Cross Mountain Canyon is a classic example of an "exhumed horst" cut by a superimposed stream. This block of ancient sedimentary rock was folded, broken, and uplifted during the formation of the Uintah Mountains in the early Tertiary period. These mountains were eventually worn down and buried in their own debris, then were again uncovered or exhumed by erosion as a new round of uplift began about 10 million years ago. In the meantime, the Yampa river had established its modern course, and as the land rose, the river cut a deep canyon and exposed the structure of the mountain. Vertical cliffs of Mississippian Madison Limestone rise to over 200 feet in height in the canyon, which is bounded on the west by a well-exposed fault zone. Two rare plant species and four endangered fish species occur in the canyon of the Yampa at this site. Peregrine falcons may nest on the cliffs.

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Dakota Hogback / Dinosaur Ridge Jefferson County2,168 acres2002
Jefferson County Open Space

The prominent ridge which forms the primary feature of the Natural Area provides excellent illustrations of the geology of the Dakota Hogback, including exposures of the Dakota, Lyons and Lykins formations. Dinosaur Ridge, a National Natural Landmark paleontological site is included in the Natural Area. Here dinosaur tracks, bones, plants and trace fossils are well-exposed in this hogback of Morrison shales capped by Dakota Sandstone.

Dinosaur Ridge tracksThe hogback south of Dinosaur Ridge supports good examples of mixed foothills shrublands, pinyon-juniper woodlands and mixed grasslands. The hogback as a whole acts as a raptor migration corridor. The area also provides a scenic western backdrop for the Denver metropolitan area. Click here​ to visit the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge website for more information.

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Deer Gulch Rio Blanco County1,809 acres1988
Bureau of Land Management

This site in Deer Gulch provides habitat for two rare plant species endemic to Green River shales, Physaria parviflora (Piceance bladderpod) and Argillochloa dasyclada (Utah fescue). Good quality remnants of Great Basin grassland, mixed mountain shrubland and lower montane Douglas-fir forest communities also occur within the boundaries. This area is also a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern. 

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Dome Rock Teller County640 acres1986
Colorado Parks & Wildlife
This scenic area is dominated by massive exfoliating outcrops of Pikes Peak granite. Dome Rock, among the most spectacular of the formations, rises 800 feet from the canyon floor. The site also contains good-quality examples of ponderosa pine, limber pine, Douglas-fir and Montane grassland plant communities. The area provides winter browse and lambing grounds for a herd of bighorn sheep.
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Droney Gulch Chaffee County3,726 acres1999
State Land Board; Bureau of Land Management
Sparsely vegetated light brown hills with highly erosive steep slopes characterize the landscape of Droney Gulch Natural Area. On many hillsides, loose soils of the Dry Union Formation are exposed. These soils support one of the largest and best-known occurrences of the rare Brandegee's wild buckwheat (Eriogonum brandegeei), a small shrub less than six inches high. This Colorado endemic is one of the rarest plant species in North America.

Brandegee's wild buckwheat is known only from nine occurrences along the Arkansas River in Chaffee and Fremont counties in central Colorado. The plant has been found only on the Dry Union Formation and lower members of the Morrison Formation. Where it occurs, numbers of individuals are high, but the species appears to be restricted to a very limited habitat type within a narrow global range.
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Dudley Bluffs Rio Blanco County1,620 acres1988
Bureau of Land Management

Dudley Bluffs is an outcrop of the thirteen mile Tongue of the Green River Formation, which supports populations of two threatened plant species, Physaria obcordata (Piceance twinpod) and Lesquerella congesta (Dudley Bluffs bladderpod). Remnants of high quality pinion pine - Utah juniper woodlands and cold desert shrublands also occur at Dudley Bluffs.

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East Sand Dunes Jackson County 3,534 acres1982, 2002
State Land Board
State Forest State Park

The East Sand Dunes are the only undisturbed example of an active cold-climate dune system in Colorado. There are only two such dune formations in the state; the other is North Sand Dunes, eight miles to the north, which has been heavily used by off road vehicles. Freeze-thaw and snow-melt processes form sedimentary structures that distunguish the East Sand Dunes from those found at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado. These cold-climate dunes are the only major active area in a predominantly dormant dune field which covers approximately 25 square miles. The relatively high precipitation, short summers and cold climate combine to greatly reduce sand movement, even on the active dunes. Because the dunes are active, the area is in a fragile state of soil and vegetative development and is an example of an ecosystem which is extremely rare in Colorado.

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Elephant Rocks Rio Grande County378 acres1994
Bureau of Land Management

Elephant Rocks are a weathered remnant of the Fish Canyon tuff, dating from the late Oligocene period roughly 28 million years ago. The rocks themselves support an occurrence of the rare parsley Neoparrya lithophila (rock-loving neoparrya). This member of the parsley family favors igneous outcrops or sedimentary rocks derived from volcanic eruptions. An interesting mixture of short grass prairie and foothill shrub land vegetation occurs on the site.

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Escalante Canyon Delta & Montrose Counties2,290 acres1992
Bureau of Land Managment

Escalante Creek has cut a 1300-foot deep canyon revealing a geologic cross section representing over 600 million years of deposition and erosion (from the Precambrian to the Cretaceous). A federally threatned plant species and Astragalus linifolius (Grand Junction milkvetch) are found at this site. Hanging gardens in the canyon walls harbor Mancos columbine (Aquilegia micrantha) and Eastwood monkeyflower (Mimulus eastwoodiae). High-quality plant communities, including Great Basin grasslands, saltbush barrens, pinyon pine - Utah juniper woodlands and a saltgrass meadow occur throughout the canyon.

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Fairview Montrose County377 acres1992
Bureau of Land Management

The site contains significant populations of rare species, Eriogonum pelinophilum (clay-loving buckwheat), which is listed as federally endangered, and Penstemon retrorsus (adobe beardtongue). These species grow on otherwise barren adobe badlands.

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Fourmile Creek Park County960 acres2010
State Land Board

The Fourmile Creek Natural Area was designated due to its unique wetland communities and rare plants. This area is recognized for having very high biological diversity due to a rare wetland type referred to as an "extreme rich fen", which is known only from South Park, Colorado and a few other locations in the world. Additionally, the area is critical passage for migrating wildlife between the Mosquito Range and South Park. The grasslands of this property may also be suitable for the mountain plover, a declining species throughout Colorado and the Great Plains.

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Fruita Paleontological Locality Mesa County280 acres1987
Bureau of Land Management

Jurassic outcrops, deposited about 140 million years ago, are the most fossil-rich formations within the Grand Valley and are protected within these acres at Fruita. The quality of preservation, completeness, and abundance of the fossil specimens make the Fruita Paleontological Locality unique. Some of the oldest mammal fossils found in the Western Hemisphere occur here. Fossil specimens found at the Fruita site include species of primitive mammals, a new genus of crocodilia, two carnivorous and several herbivorous dinosaurs.

Please be aware that this site contains features of state-wide significance. Collection is prohibited at all times with out proper permits.

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Garden Park Fossil Locality Fremont County2,668 acres 1991
Bureau of Land Management

Garden Park - Colorado's Jurassic Park
"Garden Park." It s​​​​​​ounds like an idyllic suburb, but it may be the greatest Jurassic dinosaur graveyard in the world. Located eight miles north of Cañon City in south central Colorado, Garden Park's fossils helped to fuel the dinosaur craze that began in the 1890s and continues today. If you are looking for an explanation for why children who can't yet tie their own shoes have mastered words like "Diplodocus" and "Apatosaurus," look no further than Garden Park.

Bones of the great dinosaurs lie in a set of Jurassic rocks known as the Morrison Formation, exposed throughout much of the western US. The formation is a series of claystones, limestones and sandstones deposited by meandering rivers on a broad, rich alluvial plain between 145 and 155 million years ago. What makes Garden Park unique is that fossils are found throughout the 350-foot-thick formation, in contrast with the better-known quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, which is restricted to a single sandstone bed.

Dinosaur bones were first found in Garden Park by local residents in the 1870s. Word got back to the museums of the eastern U.S. and two of the greatest figures of American paleontology were soon involved. Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh played out a major chapter in their intense personal and professional rivalry in the quarries at Garden Park (see "Dinosaur Wars" article from the Smithsonian). Marsh was an amateur paleontologist who owed his professorship at Yale to a rich uncle. Cope was a professional associated with the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences. Former friends, their relationship ended in decades of slander, bribery and outright destruction of one another's fossil finds. However, because of the public nature of Marsh and Cope's dispute, and the tremendous collecting efforts that arose from it, the rest of the country became aware of the fascinating world of the Late Jurassic and its mighty dinosaurs.

The intense drive to publish first caused both scientists to commit careless mistakes, such as mixing up the bones of different species when naming a new animal. Marsh didn't even do most of his own fieldwork, instead hiring a local rancher, M.P. Felch, to do his excavating for him. Fortunately for science, Felch, although lacking formal training in paleontology, was a careful worker and a thorough observer. The type specimen of Stegosaurus stenops, Colorado's State Fossil, was recovered intact by Felch. It is now on display at the Smithsonian.

In addition to the Marsh and Cope quarries, at least four other fossil quarries pock Garden Park. Fossil dinosaur skeletons from Garden Park can be found in most of the natural history museums in the U.S. Researchers from the Denver Museum of Natural History and the University of Colorado continue to work the area. The quarries at Garden Park produced the type specimens of Camarasaurus, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Diplodocus and Haplocanthosaurus, as well as at least 16 species of freshwater invertebrates. The skeletons of dozens of species of Jurassic mammals, fish, crocodiles and turtles have also been recovered.

Almost forgotten in the hullabaloo over fossils is the fact that Garden Park contains significant populations of three of Colorado's rare plants – Mentzelia chrysantha, Asclepias uncialis, and Eriogonum brandegeei. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the plant populations is that they are isolated by many miles from other populations. Garden Park is also the site of the first oil well in the western U.S. (1862).

Once Cope and Marsh abandoned their quarries in the 1880s, Garden Park fell into relative obscurity. Small expeditions would arrive every few decades, quarry bone for a season or two, and carry away their findings. Nonetheless, Garden Park is one of the most important late Jurassic vertebrate localities in North America, because of the quality of its specimens and the breadth of time covered. The Garden Park Fossil Area was designated a National Natural Landmark in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, a group of amateur paleontologists formed the Garden Park Paleontology Society and began pushing for increased protection and recognition of the area's scientific and historic significance. Their efforts paid off. In 1990 Garden Park was designated a Research Natural Area by the Bureau of Land Management and a Colorado Natural Area by the state. The Society itself has blossomed and now boasts a small but high-quality museum, the Dinosaur Depot, in the heart of Cañon City.

Please be aware that this site contains features of state-wide significance. Collection is prohibited at all times without proper permits.

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Gateway Palisade Mesa County2,569 acres1987
Bureau of Land Management

The Gateway Palisade is an outstanding scenic feature consisting of a 2000 foot monolithic fin of dark red Wingate sandstone. The stratigraphic sequence displayed at this site helps to interpret the geologic history of the Uncompahgre Uplift during the Permian period (225 million years ago).

There have also recently been several rare plant species discovered on the property, making this Natural Area even more interesting.

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Geneva Basin Iron Fens Clear Creek County102 acres2004
Clear Creek County

This site contains several iron fens which support the first (and currently only) known population of Sphagnum girgensohnii (a sphagnum moss) in Colorado. The iron fen differs from many others in having large expanses of unvegetated limonite. It also illustrates the effects of groundwater pH on vegetation; spring flow from the south is circumneutral and supports moderately-rich fen vegetation (Salix planifolia, Carex aquatilis); groundwater from the west and north is extremely acidic and supports limonite, sphagnum, bog birch and dwarfed Engelmann spruce. 

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Gothic Gunnison County1,190 acres1980
U.S. Forest Service

Gothic Natural Area contains virgin stands of Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir forest, typical of the upper montane ecosystem of western Colorado. The area ranges in elevation from 10,000 feet at the East River to 12,809 feet at the summit of Mt. Baldy and includes high elevation features such as glacial cirques, moraines, talus slopes and high alpine lakes.

This area also provides an outstanding resource for research and education. Researchers from the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory use the Gothic Research Natural Area for a variety of projects.

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