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Supporting bees on the Denver Federal Center

by Rich Stebbins
Peter Marples tends to his beehives on the Denver Federal Center
Peter Marples tends to his beehives on the Denver Federal Center that help pollinate the local community within a 3-mile radius.Photograph by Richard Stebbins

Summer is coming to an end but there is still a “buzz” around the 570-acre Denver Federal Center (DFC) campus these days. Near Gate 1 are four honey bee hives that are safely nestled in an unused field on the campus.

Peter Marples, the beekeeper that maintains the hives, has been allowed to keep them on the campus through an agreement with regional GSA leadership. Marples has managed the hives as a hobby for just over four years on the DFC but his passion for bees was inspired by a family member who had a previous experience with beekeeping.

“My sister was an exchange student in Germany and her host family had over 100 bee hives,  when she came back to the U.S. she was really interested in bees. When I moved into a house nearby, there were wild bees living in a tree in the backyard. I caught the wild swarm and have had beehives ever since,” said Marples.

Marples’ hives have around 70,000 bees total in four white box containers.  Two of the hives have four boxes each with about 60,000 bees in them and the other two are split from the main hive with two boxes each that have around 10,000 bees.

Having the hives on this federal facility provides a helpful environment to sustain the bee population and the DFC leverages the land to make it advantageous for these hives to flourish. 

Where the bees are currently located, there is minimal to no pedestrian traffic so they won’t make people feel uncomfortable. The DFC has amenities, such as McIntyre Gulch that flows through the campus and a stocked Downing Reservoir, to serve as the bees’ water source. To support the bee population, GSA will plant fruit trees and pollinator flowers to provide a quick food source for the bees on the campus. 

“We have a couple thousand trees on the campus now and we plan on replacing 350 dead trees with fruit trees, such as cherry trees, and other types of flowering trees,” said Ed Dascanio, Construction Control Representative for Region 8. 

Bees buzzing around the hive on the Denver Federal Center
Peter Marple's bees buzzing around the hive on the Denver Federal Center.Photograph by Richard Stebbins

While there is an abundant food source on the DFC for the bees, they do also travel for food. Bees typically travel up to a 3-mile radius to look for the nectar and pollen that they eventually bring back to the hives. The local community benefits from the bees on the DFC as they help to pollinate personally owned vegetable gardens, flowering plants and fruit trees.

Typically in an apiary there are many more hives, but the purpose of keeping bees on the DFC is not to harvest the honey. Bees use the honey as a source of protein to get through the lean winter months, so not harvesting helps keep the population healthy when they cannot leave the hive.

GSA has a pollinator protection initiative that places beehives on federal land to help keep bee populations healthy and flourishing. The hives at the DFC are not part of that study but do support the initiative by hosting and maintaining a safe environment for the bees while offering a benefit to the local community.