What does your local state park mean to you?
Growing up in Aurora, Cherry Creek State Park was my local state park and an extension of my backyard. To be brutally honest, I viewed Cherry Creek as the closest safe, clean outdoor space for my three brothers and me and a refuge from our ramshackle townhome in a high-crime neighborhood.
Cherry Creek State Park is an oasis of prairie lands, cottonwood groves, wetlands, and streams pouring into a modest but very busy reservoir amid a booming metro area. Even 20 years ago, Cherry Creek State Park was immediately surrounded by shopping centers, restaurants, housing developments, major streets and noisy highways.
To reach our beloved oasis, we waited in long lines of vehicles, idling in the blazing summer sun, just to get through the front gates of the park. Things haven’t changed much in the two decades since. Then, as now, Cherry Creek was often at capacity during weekends and holidays. But we didn’t mind the wait. Our oasis promised a refreshing reprieve from the concrete and crowds that surrounded us daily.
If a ride wasn’t available, my brothers and I could walk or bike onto the park, eagerly trading the sounds of roaring engines and blaring horns for the confident songs of tiny birds, and for the whisper of a summer breeze swirling through the broad green leaves of tall, strong trees that lined every road and nearly every trail.
Cherry Creek State Park is where I learned to swim and build a campfire. It’s where I saw my first herd of deer, and came face-to-face with a bold, curious coyote one unforgettable day. It’s where my brothers and I investigated countless ponds and creeks until the stars came out.
It was where our entire extended family spent nearly every summer weekend boating, camping, biking, picnicking and playing in the sand. It was the location of my first volunteer “job” as a stable hand for the on-park livery, and it’s where I began my career with state parks as a seasonal boat ranger.
In so many ways, our local state park provided the framework for our strong family bonds. It’s where I learned to feel safe and comfortable in the outdoors. And it clearly shaped who I am today.
So today I ask: What do you want our newest state park to mean to you? What should it mean to your children, and to your grandchildren?
Now is the time to speak up.
The Fishers Peak State Park master planning effort will soon host a variety of interest group discussions for governmental and non-governmental organizations and businesses with knowledge and expertise relevant to our newest state park. In recent weeks, over 120 applications for interest group involvement have poured in from local and statewide organizations.
Once formed by relevant interest, these groups will work to brainstorm and share ideas for the park’s master plan.
The important work of the interest groups will then be added to our existing Science and Outdoor Recreation Workgroup, and our local Trinidad Workgroup.
For individuals wanting to share their personal vision for Fishers Peak State Park, there is an on-going opportunity to send in development ideas and other comments via our park website, and through the survey link provided on our signage at the Fishers Peak Trailhead. Also, the master planning team will be launching a public survey in the coming months, along with two additional public meetings regarding our planning process in 2021.
I am proud and excited to share with you two other very important components of our project’s outreach: our Inclusivity Expert Review Panel and our tribal engagement efforts.
As a part of our commitment to ensuring equity in the master planning process for Fishers Peak State Park, we have created an Inclusivity Expert Review Panel to review our public engagement and communications plan.
The goal of the engagement plan is to connect with stakeholders who are historically underrepresented in planning processes, especially people who may be more difficult to reach through traditional outreach methods such as public meetings, stakeholder groups, surveys, social media, etc.
This expert review panel has been asked to identify barriers to participation and to assist in the development of a truly inclusive and robust engagement and communications plan.
I am looking forward to some of this group’s initial reporting in the weeks to come, and hope to share their insights in my coming articles.
Finally, one of my favorite aspects of our master plan’s outreach efforts has been our new and improved approach to tribal engagement.
In October 2020, Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, invited any Native American tribe with a connection to what is now Fishers Peak State Park to participate in the planning and development of the new state park.
While engaging Native American tribes in the planning of a state park is not a new concept for CPW, this model of relationship-building and meaningful collaboration at such an early stage of planning for a state park is very exciting.
Our planning team is currently working to understand the connections and relationships between Native Americans and the Fishers Peak landscape. We will discuss and plan for opportunities to support tribal interests in the park, and will work to incorporate tribal advice and recommendations into development decisions.
I hope that you are thinking about your favorite outdoor space right about now, and maybe even thinking about your local state park.
And as I get back to work on your newest state park, I hope that some of what you love about your favorite outdoor space inspires you to share with us your hopes and visions for Fishers Peak 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.