More than a year after entering a partnership to acquire a 19,200-acre ranch that includes the towering landmark known as Fishers Peak, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has completed the purchase, clearing the way for creation of the state’s 42nd state park.
The acquisition is especially significant as Coloradans prepare to celebrate Colorado Public Lands Day on Saturday, May 16.
“The state’s acquisition of Fishers Peak is an exciting milestone for Colorado outdoor recreationists, wildlife watchers, hunters and residents and businesses of Southern Colorado,” Governor Jared Polis said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Coloradans highly value their open spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities. Colorado was one of the few states to keep our state parks open during this entire crisis because recreating at a safe space outdoors is a healthy part of our lifestyles. Adding Fishers Peak as our next state park will increase opportunities to explore a unique and stunning part of Colorado.”
“I look forward to celebrating Colorado Public Lands Day this weekend and, in the months to come, opening Fishers Peak to the public with our important partners and local elected officials.”
In February 2019, CPW partnered with the City of Trinidad, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to purchase the mostly undeveloped property, prized for its variety of habitat, wildlife and the linkage it provides between grasslands to the east with foothills and mountains to the west.
The property includes the 9,633-foot summit of Fishers Peak, an iconic outcropping of ancient horizontal lava flows atop Raton Mesa, which has served as a landmark for Native Americans, a beacon for pioneers moving west and a waypoint along the historic Santa Fe Trail connecting the Eastern U.S. to New Mexico and the Southwest.
Protect Natural Treasures and Wildlife
The Fishers Peak property also is valued for the wildlife it shelters, including native species like elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain lion and black bear. And it preserves important migration corridors between their populations in the mountains and those on the prairies.
On April 2, the partners signed over ownership of the property to CPW. With the deed in hand, CPW leadership and the partners immediately ramped up master-planning efforts to create a new state park that will protect the natural treasures and wildlife found there while welcoming visitors, including hunters, campers, hikers, mountain bikers, wildlife watchers, rock climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“We are grateful to our partners for all their work securing the property for future generations of Coloradans and visitors,” said Brett Ackerman, CPW Southeast Region Manager. “Great teamwork has gotten us to this point. We at CPW look forward to completing the master-planning process and meeting the governor’s goal of opening Colorado’s next state park.”
“We are pleased to finalize this sale of the property to CPW in these trying times,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “Over the past weeks, it’s become even more clear how important access to nature is to all people, providing solace, hope and community. I’m proud of the Conservancy’s efforts with partners to steward this project from the beginning to where we are now, one step closer to Colorado’s next state park.”
“It’s become more evident than ever that access to the outdoors is an important part of everyone’s physical and mental well-being,” said Jim Petterson, The Trust for Public Land’s Colorado state director. “This new state park will give the people of Colorado an exceptional place to get outside to heal and connect with nature, their community and each other.”
“GOCO is a proud partner in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian, whose agency provided the bulk of the funding, $17.25 million, toward the acquisition. “It’s been our honor to be a proponent and primary funder of this amazing project to date, and we look forward to supporting our partners at CPW to bring a vision for this state park to fruition.”
“The City of Trinidad strongly supports Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s acquisition of the Fishers Peak property and the partnership that made this new state park a reality for our city and Las Animas County,” said Trindad Mayor Phil Rico.
For now, the property remains closed to public access. But CPW intends a phased approach to opening that will allow limited public access to the property while the master-planning process proceeds and a full state park is developed.
The public can follow the park’s progress and get updates on participating in the planning process at cpw.state.co.us.
Colorado Public Lands Day
In 2016, Colorado became the first state to establish a holiday for our public lands. Colorado Public Lands Day focuses on how our public lands are central to the state’s economy and our quality of life.
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy and we all must adapt and celebrate public lands while remaining socially distant. As a result, Colorado Public Lands Day activities this year will highlight art, film, educational webinars and community conversations to offer a variety of ways that Coloradans can meaningfully connect with one another as well as our precious lands and waters. Visit copubliclandsday.com, to learn more about Colorado Public Lands Day.
Written by Bill Vogrin. Bill is a public information officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife southeast region.