Greetings from the most exciting place in Colorado, if you are a park manager and enjoy creating things from scratch.
That’s the position I’m in as Park Manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s newest state park: the 19,200-acre Fishers Peak State Park.
I am part of a team of CPW managers, engineers, biologists and other staff who have the privilege of helping to create Colorado’s 42nd state park. I say “helping to create” because it’s a project that involves our partners including The City of Trinidad, The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and Great Outdoors Colorado, or GOCO.
Additionally, our Las Animas County Commissioners have been steadfast in their interest and support of Colorado’s next state park.
And, of course, this project involves you, the Colorado public. We can’t build a new state park without getting input from all of you as to what amenities you would like to have in your new park.
It’s been hectic since early 2019 when CPW negotiations intensified to buy the former Crazy French Ranch. Things really took off in April of this year when CPW took full ownership of the property. I know there is great interest among the public about what’s been happening on the state park and, more importantly, when it will open so everyone can explore and enjoy it.
Please understand we can’t just immediately open the gates and let people in. CPW and its partners are committed to protecting the state park’s natural, scenic, cultural and biological values to ensure they are preserved for future generations.
At the same time, we intend to provide meaningful outdoor recreation opportunities as soon as possible to benefit the cultural, educational and economic future of Trinidad, Las Animas County and all of Colorado. This work of planning and developing quality recreation around conservation is integral to this project, and is something that all of our partners continue to take very seriously.
In the coming months, I will update you on the latest progress we’ve made both on the ground and in the master-planning process. I’ll alert you of public meetings and other opportunities where we hope to gather your input. And I’ll let you know when you will soon be able to visit, at least a portion of the sprawling State Park.
So let’s get started with our first official update.
As of July 16, 2020, with the approval of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, the property will now be known as Fishers Peak State Park and becomes Colorado’s second largest State Park.
Folks in the region may have noticed a lot of activity on the park recently. From north to south the place has been buzzing with biologists, archaeologists and the occasional construction crew.
Our partnership’s many diverse biologists and hired consultants have been conducting exhaustive scientific studies of all the flora and fauna, cultural, historical and recreational assets and more.
Among the discoveries was the presence of the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. In 2014, the mouse was listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to loss of habitat and low population numbers. With every day we learn more about the rare, sensitive and endangered species and their habitat in the park.
Bird surveys continue and are going well. Among the numerous bird species in the park, biologists have found two golden eagle nests as well as a nesting pair of peregrine falcons. They also report owl sightings. Other discoveries of note include the ground-nesting ovenbird and the Mexican whip-poor-will.
Herptile surveys have found an unusual lizard species that CPW biologists have not encountered – the variable skink – making Fishers Peak likely the only state park where this species has been observed.
There is not a lot known about skinks, which makes the observation more valuable. Skinks only occur in the very southern half of Colorado.
There’s even coordinated weed-mapping underway, along with experts studying on-site plants to formulate the appropriate seed mixture to use when landscaping areas of the park.
We have also broken ground on what will be our initial, limited trail access point on the north end of the park.
In recent weeks, crews have begun grading and laying gravel on a new access road and parking lots. The installation of two vault toilets was completed recently. That was an exciting step toward opening the park to the public. I never would have thought that I could be so excited about bathroom buildings, but that was a big day for the project!
In the coming months, the partnership will launch the public process as planners gather input to set management goals for the State Park and design future recreation amenities that include roads, parking lots, restrooms, picnic areas, trails and wildlife-viewing areas for the public to enjoy.
During this time, conservation and recreation organizations, as well as Coloradans from Trinidad and around the state, will have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the master planning for Fishers Peak State Park.
In the meantime, I invite you to come visit us at Trinidad Lake State Park. Watch for my upcoming columns with all the latest information on Fishers Peak.
Written by Crystal Dreiling. Crystal Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Fishers Peak/Trinidad Lake Park Manager.