I recently accepted a seasonal position with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, and interpretive and outreach position very similar to what I had been doing with the National Park Service. When I shared the news with my family, they were a bit confused. One of my relative asked if this meant I was supervising playgrounds and recreational facilities like tennis courts and swimming pools. It’s easy to understand their confusion, as Parks and Opens Space is veryunique to Colorado, particularly its Front Range cities and counties.
Two thirds of the land in Colorado is owned by some sort of government agency and can’t be developed. This means lots of wide, open spaces, especially in western Colorado. So you’d think there wouldn’t be much need for county or city parks. But most of Colorado’s population is concentrated on what’s known as the Front Range. The Front Range simply refers to the first big range of mountains encountered from the east — think Longs Peak, Pikes Peak, and other peaks in the 13,000 foot range. The biggest cities in Colorado are all set along the front range – Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs. Fortunately, for Colorado, by the time the population started to boom along its Front Range, they had time to think about development and make a plan. This is where Open Space and Parks come into the equation.
All along the Front Range, as cities grew in population, the county and city governments decided it was important to create open space as a place where residents could recreate and use the land. They also wanted to create a buffer to restrict urban sprawl from taking over. In fact, the City of Boulder made history in 1967 when its voters approved a raise in sales tax specifically to purchase open space near the city’s boundaries, passing with 57% of the vote. Boulder is not alone in doing so, in that several cities including nearby Golden have pursued the acquisition of open space as well. Many of the counties along the front range have acquired thousands of acres of lands, including former ranches for use as Parks and Open Space. Boulder County, for whom I will be working, currently manages over 97000 acres of Open Space and Parks.
These areas function with much the same purpose and mission as national parks and state parks. The preserve historic and cultural buildings (i.e., ranches, mining), as well as providing recreation through hiking trails, mountain biking, fishing with highly scenic vistas (see above picture of Hall Ranch). They also provide important refuges for wildlife as well, including deer, elk, moose and other creatures. Open space and parks are not always completely open for public use, as they preserve areas for mating and other purposes. However in contrast to state and national parks, there is no admission fee charged to use them. Occasionally, there are areas where parking is charged to residents outside the county, because of limited space, but for the most part these parks and open spaces are free to the public to use and enjoy.
Right here in Nederland, we have two Open Spaces that provide important habitat and a chance to learn about our history in Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch. Bryon and I have spent many a happy day either mountain biking at Mud Lake in summer or snowshoeing in winter. As the moose population has grown on this side of divide, many moose have started to use Mud Lake for their home. And Caribou has a rich mining history upon which the town of Nederland is founded. I think we’re very fortunate in Colorado that we were able to plan our communities to include these important refuges for both people and wildlife. Unlike the east coast, population didn’t really surge in earnest until the 1960s and 1970s, and we were able to make choices about how our cities and towns would develop. We’re very lucky that in addition to our wonderful national parks and state parks, we have these parks right here in our local communities. So next time you hear the word Parks and Open Space, you’ll understand better these unique resources for Coloradans to connect with nature, be awestruck by the myriad of wildlife, and learn about our rich cultural past.