Tolland Ranch project to preserve historic property noted for wildlife, scenic beauty; also helps protect water supplies for Denver, Boulder
WALDEN -- The Great Outdoors Colorado Board has approved seven grants that will preserve more than 15,000 acres in nine counties, which will create a new public open space near Colorado Springs and a mile of new public fishing access on the Arkansas River.
The largest grant will help preserve the famed Tolland Ranch, a historic and scenic property that includes significant wildlife habitat, popular Nordic ski trails, critical watersheds for Denver and Boulder water supplies – and a railroad runs right through it.
Overall, the grants approved at the GOCO board meeting in Walden will:
- Conserve more than 4,000 acres of potential habitat for federally threatened or endangered species, including the Canada Lynx, Greenback Cutthroat Trout and the southwestern willow flycatcher.
- Protect 12.7 miles of riparian habitat and river corridors
- Create a new 63-acre public open space south of Fountain in El Paso County
- Add a mile of new public fishing access on the East Fork of the Arkansas River near Leadville.
About 4,100 conserved acres are on state or national scenic byways, and all but 65 will be preserved through conservation easements. The $3.2 million in grants will leverage $13.3 million in cash matches or landowner donations for a total $16.5 million investment in Colorado’s great outdoors. Applications this cycle requested 143% percent of available funds.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided between GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund and school construction.
Details on each grant:
BACA AND LAS ANIMAS COUNTIES
Lazy UO Ranch
The Nature Conservancy will purchase a conservation easement on the 10,785-acre Lazy UO Ranch south of La Junta in Las Animas and Baca Counties. The property sits adjacent to the 7,075-acre Sikes State Wildlife Area, which connects to over 15,000 acres of Comanche National Grasslands and State Land Board property.
The ranch provides habitat for bighorn sheep as well as numerous Species of Greatest Conservation Need as designated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Water resources are relatively sparse in southeast Colorado, and the property contains 4.7 miles of West Carrizo Creek. The property is enrolled in Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Ranching for Wildlife program, which provides limited public hunting access.
BOULDER AND GILPIN COUNTIES
South Boulder Creek Forest Legacy (Tolland Ranch)
A GOCO grant will help complete the purchase of a $7.1 million conservation easement on the Tolland Ranch, a historic private property that lies south of the Eldora Mountain Resort ski area near Nederland. Its mature subalpine forest and riparian areas contain habitat for sensitive and endangered species such as the Canada lynx and boreal toad. Its protection will safeguard the health of South and Middle Boulder Creek, which provides critical drinking water for Denver and Boulder.
The property provides habitat for mountain lion, elk, mule deer, bear, moose, river otter and wild turkeys. Notably, elk herds use the Toll property as range and for calving. It is bordered by Roosevelt National Forest and James Peak Wilderness.
The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit, negotiated the agreement with the Toll family to place the land under an easement to restrict development. This includes eliminating the rights to build as many as 88 homes on the land. The ski resort would continue to lease part of the property that contains most of its 65-mile Nordic ski trail system.
The land is close to the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. Amtrak’s California Zephyr ferries 370,000 passengers through the property every year.
The transaction is being funded by GOCO, $1.5 million from Boulder County, $4.9 million from the U.S. Forest Service and significant donations by the landowner. The project was rated first in the nation in 2013 by the USFS’ Forest Legacy Program. The property spans Boulder and Gilpin counties.
EL PASO COUNTY
El Paso County will acquire, and Palmer Land Trust (PLT) will hold a conservation easement on the 63-acre Wedgewood Farms Preserve property south of Fountain in El Paso County for future public open space. The land is dominated by cottonwood stands and riparian habitat on both sides of Fountain Creek. Clear Springs Ranch, a 970-acre open space, borders the property on the south and west.
The project builds upon a GOCO River Corridors Initiative grant that funded trail and recreation facility improvements on Clear Spring Ranch and expanded the Fountain Creek Nature Center. The county intends to develop trails, fishing access, and other passive recreational infrastructure after acquiring the property.
Mill Creek Ranch
Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy will purchase, and Colorado Open Lands will hold, a conservation easement on 248 acres of the 1,900-acre Mill Creek Ranch located northwest of Gunnison. The conservation easement will protect productive agricultural lands, significant habitat resources for the Gunnison sage grouse, one mile of both sides of Mill Creek, and scenic views from two public roads in the Ohio Creek Valley.
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust will purchase a conservation easement on 335 acres of a working ranch near the base of the Raggeds Wilderness Area near Somerset. It will enlarge an existing conservation easement that protects an adjacent 500 acres . The combined easement will create a large, unseverable tract for winter elk and mule deer habitat. It also provides scene views to drivers on the West Elk Scenic and Historic Byway.
GILPIN COUNTY – See Boulder County
The Trust for Public Land and Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas will purchase a conservation easement on 175 acres of the 671-acre Headwaters Ranch near Leadville on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. The property lies along the East Fork of the Arkansas River, and the conservation easement will provide one mile of public fishing access and preserve significant riparian habitat.
The property contains high quality habitat for greenback cutthroat trout, lynx, elk, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion and ptarmigan. The landowner will allow for a parking lot to be constructed on the property to support the public fishing access.
LAS AMINAS COUNTY – See Baca County
Fruitlands Forever Initiative, IV
Mesa Land Trust will purchase a conservation easement on the 52-acre Christianson Vineyard and a separate easement on the 17-acre Ruckman Farm near Palisade as part of its growing Fruitlands Forever Initiative. The easement acquisitions will protect 61 acres of irrigated, highly productive fruit-growing property where water rights are already secured to the land. The acquisitions will also add to the 31 farms and 771 acres that the land trust has protected in the Palisade Buffer, an area that local governments encourage conservation.
The easement on the Christianson Vineyard – the first property westbound travelers on I-70 see upon entering Palisade and the Grand Valley-- will protect one-half mile of Colorado River frontage.
Horse Creek Ranch
Montezuma Land Conservancy will purchase a conservation easement on the 240-acre Horse Creek Ranch northeast of Mancos. The San Juan National Forest surrounds the property on three sides. One-half mile of Horse Creek runs directly through the ranch, and it contains potential habitat for the endangered Canada lynx and big game species.
The acquisition builds on earlier success in the San Juan Scenic Skyway Priority Landscape, which includes protection of 13 miles of riparian habitat and over 4,380 acres of protected land in the Mancos Valley alone.