Everyone ready for a sneak peek at Fishers Peak State Park?
With the help of Gov. Jared Polis, we’re going to cut ribbon Friday, Oct. 30, and open Colorado’s 42nd state park.
On hand will be key public officials from Trinidad, Las Animas County, the Colorado General Assembly and partner organizations who worked with CPW to secure the former ranch so we could open it to the public: the City of Trinidad, non-profits The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).
After an invitation-only ceremony on Friday, Oct. 30, we’ll open the gates to give everyone a “Sneak Peek,” at 3 p.m.
Spoiler alert: Just a small piece of the 19,200-acre park – about 250 acres – will be opened for now. This small portion of the park will be open daily thereafter from sunrise to sunset.
Initial Phase Opening
We’ll have one parking lot with space for approximately 92 vehicles, two vault toilets, five picnic tables in a scenic spot, a gentle, 3⁄4-mile trail, the beginnings of a beautifully constructed trail, and a challenging, steep 1.5-mile trail along an old ranch road.
Our goal is to give everyone a taste of the hiking, hunting, wildlife watching and more that will be available once the park is fully developed in coming years.
While I’m thrilled to be able to invite folks to come see this historic, geologic, cultural and scenic treasure of a park, I feel I must caution everyone not to expect too much at this time.
For this initial phase, we will only be allowing pedestrian use of all trails, and no dogs are allowed on the property. There will be no access to the peak and no camping yet.
This is the phased-opening approach we’ve been talking about for Fishers Peak.
Historically, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (or CPW) has taken years to research a property and develop a master plan that is inclusive of public opinion, sensitive to the needs of wildlife and protects unique habitat before starting construction of infrastructure like roads, trails, toilets, parking lots, visitor centers, sewer and water service and interpretive signs.
At Fishers Peak, we set out from the beginning to try a new model. In order to offer some limited public access sooner, we identified a small corner of the property on which to conduct intense, rapid ecological and archaeological assessments. Once our various experts cleared this area, we set about constructing our Sneak Peek area.
Before I get into more details, I want to single out a few groups whose hard work has made it possible for us to offer the Sneak Peek.
Building New Trails
In recent weeks, we had our first volunteer trail crews building some of the first few trails you’ll find when you visit. Each day for four days, a dedicated group of 20 or so volunteers performed back-breaking work, even on hands and knees, in the hot sun to help get the trails ready. We are so grateful and inspired by their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment.
I also offer my sincere thanks to the Trinidad City Council for providing lunches from local restaurants for all volunteers over the four work days. Mayor Phil Rico even helped deliver lunches one day along the trail. Thanks Mayor!
CPW depends heavily on volunteers to help with our campground operations, research projects, Bear Aware activities, public education, and for a variety of other tasks at our parks. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Fishers Peak or any of our state parks, please visit the volunteer section of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Sneak Peek Details
Now, the details about our Sneak Peek beginning Friday, Oct. 30, likely in early afternoon.
This initial opening phase will highlight five different experiences visitors can expect when the park is fully planned and built. Again, this will be a small taste.
First, we couldn’t open the gates even a crack if we didn’t have at least one quality hiking trail available providing an exceptional view. So guests will find the First Look Trail – a quarter-mile professionally designed and built trail extending through the forest.
The First Look Trail offers some spectacular views of the park’s 9,633-foot namesake, Fishers Peak.
Again, a spoiler alert: There will be no trails open to the summit. We are working hard on planning that opportunity. But for now, visitors will have to be satisfied with views from afar.
Second, we’ll have a drive-in picnic area for visitors who want an easily accessible, scenic spot for a picnic lunch. It is just off the new parking lot and near the two vault restrooms.
Third, you will enjoy a short and easy Discovery Trail, which meanders to a small meadow perfect for picnics. A small loop around the meadow is lined with interpretive signs that encourage visitors to learn about the habitat around them through the five senses.
Fourth, we want to offer a glimpse of the extreme backcountry hiking challenges Fishers Peak will offer when fully developed. So that brings us to our Challenge Trail.
Aggressive 1.5-mile Hiking Trail
Our volunteers helped convert an existing ranch road route into an aggressive (a nice way of saying “steep”) 1.5-mile hiking trail.
How aggressive? Most professionally designed trails don’t exceed 8 to 10 percent grades. Our Challenge Trail will have you feeling the burn on stretches that exceed 30 percent grade.
The payoff for all the work is a spectacular view of Fishers Peak and the valley below.
Fifth and finally, the Sneak Peak includes our Wildlife Conservation program at the park that will see hunting debut this fall.
One of the pillars of the partnership at Fishers Peak State Park is planning recreation around conservation. And in recognition of the $6.35 million in Habitat Stamp funds used to help buy Fishers Peak, CPW is providing public hunting opportunities on the property beginning this month. A Habitat Stamp is required to buy or apply for a hunting or fishing license in Colorado, and many people who don’t hunt or fish also purchase a Habitat Stamp, to help protect and conserve habitat for Colorado’s wildlife.
This initial hunting season will allow access by drawing for five big game hunters. This experience is intended to showcase hunting opportunities as well as highlight the important role of hunting in wildlife conservation.
One last important detail to note: all Colorado state parks have entrance fees. All vehicles entering a state park are required to have a vehicle pass and some parks, including Fishers Peak, require an Individual Pass if you are walking or biking in.
For more information on passes, including purchasing multiple vehicle passes, large quantity discounts and specialty passes such as disability, military, etc, see the Parks Pass Information page. A pass purchased at Trinidad Lake, or any other state park, will be honored at the other.
Now it’s time for me to get back to work on your park. Thank you all for your continued support and enthusiasm for Colorado’s 42nd state park.
Written by Crystal Dreiling. Crystal Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Fishers Peak/Trinidad Lake Park Manager. Editor’s Note: This is a regular monthly column from Colorado Parks and Wildlife about the creation of Fishers Peak State Park near Trinidad by a career park manager.