The first 250 acres of the 19,200 at Fishers Peak State Park opened to the public Oct. 30. Now many want to know: What’s next for the newest Colorado state park? A master plan is what.

Updates were given at a virtual Fishers Peak State Park public meeting by the park’s project team and its partners Monday, Dec. 14, with an additional Question-and-Answer session Thursday, Dec. 17. Both sessions were facilitated by Melissa Rary, an associate of Collaborative Decision Resources, or CDR. Kevin Shanks of THK Associates of Aurora presented a detailed timeline of what should happen with the park until the first quarter of 2022. (Listen to the Monday meeting and see the timeline at https://www.fisherspeakstatepark.com/public-meeting-121420-english.)

Shanks, THK’s director of landscape architecture and planning and one of the senior planners for the park, described the process of a master plan to the virtual audience. He said the Fishers Peak park partners define it as “an overarching management guide that will identify desired future conditions to guide long-term management and development.”

He explained site analyses have been ongoing since 2019, but it is far from being completed. The big unknown is the pandemic.  The timeline shows, though, that a draft of the master plan should be ready for all park partners to view at the end of 2021 then finalized in the first quarter of 2022.

Although many professionals are working on the project, as the meeting continued, Shanks, among the other partners, stressed the importance of community involvement throughout the creation of entire master plan.

“We want to learn more from all of you,” CDR’s Rary said. CDR was brought on by the partners as an impartial facilitator as part of the THK consultant team.

Some background

The development of the 19,200-acre park, that is now owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the state of Colorado, began with an idea Mayor Phil Rico and other Trinidad leaders put forth in 2017. They wanted to diversify Trinidad’s economy from the cannabis industry and thought purchasing 4,500 acres of Fishers Peak Ranch, which towers over the town, could be used by the city and county for recreation and education. He found lots of support.

“We have always wanted to preserve what’s in our backyard,” Rico said at Thursday’s virtual meeting.

What happened next? The city reached out to The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, and in February 2019, the two organizations purchased 19,200 acres of the ranch for $25.4 million from owner Evelyne Jung.  

In December 2018, however, when the ranch was under contract, TPL and TNC, partnering with the city of Trinidad, began “The Fishers Peak Visioning Project” to collect community comments. They wanted to educate area residents about the purchase of the ranch, but they also wanted to gather ideas about the future of the property. Through a variety of methods—from coffee chats to social media outreach—more than 400 people, including some fourth- and fifth graders, shared their opinions for the future of Fishers Peak Ranch.

The report titled “A Community Vision for Fishers Peak Ranch” was released in March 2019.  According to the report, residents, in general, were concerned about protecting the property, yet they were happy they could someday access it. Taken from the report, the goals that emerged follow:

1) Ensure the long-term protection of Fishers Peak Ranch’s natural resources and beauty.

2) Use careful study and design to meld natural resource protection with public access and recreation.

3) Provide a diversity of ways for Trinidad residents and visitors to experience and enjoy the property and the peak.

4) Utilize Fisher’s Peak Ranch as an outdoor classroom that accommodates environmental education and inspires stewardship.

5) Draw visitors to Trinidad and catalyze local economic development with the thoughtful creation of recreation facilities on Fisher’s Peak Ranch.

6) Protect the Fisher’s Peak viewshed and dark night skies.

Grade schoolers interviewed shared a variety of things they would like to do there, including riding horses, making bird feeders and looking for lizard. What would they build? Treehouses, a stargazing campground and a sanctuary for hurt animals among other things.

As the presentations and discussions progressed May 14 and 17, it was apparent that the goals were being considered—and seriously.  Treehouses, though?  Probably not.

It should be noted that other than the original partners of the park purchase, others have joined, other than CPW. These organizations include GOCO, using Colorado Lottery funds; Las Animas County; Colorado Department of Local Affairs; Trinidad State, which starts it new major Trail Building and Maintenance major spring semester 2021; and the Colorado Department of Transportation, which is helping with the reconstruction of I-25’s Exit 11, the main exit to the park at this time.

This is a great big piece of land

As mentioned, the purpose of the Monday meeting was to explain the planning process and to remind the public that the partners are in the early stages of the process. Development cannot be rushed.

Crystal Dreiling, senior park manager, said that the park’s 250-acre sneak peek has been getting many positive responses from visitors. Over 100 survey responses have been recorded already.  (The website fisherspeakstatepark.com has a suggestion form available for all comments about the park and its future.)

“There is definitely excitement for what’s to come,” Dreiling said. Hiking, mountain biking, hunting and camping are all being considered.

That said, as the group moves through the timeline, public meetings will be held at key milestones.

Daniel Estes, a CDR associate, said Monday that the planners want the community to play a significant role in the park’s planning. “The idea here is to look at this through a local lens” then move outward more regionally and statewide.

“This is definitely one of the most exciting aspects of the project,” Estes said. “Partners want this to be a community-driven effort.” Focus groups will be formed after the first of the year that have different expertise, he said, and if people don’t have a chance to get involved, there will also be surveys for them to complete so they can participate that way.

Other than the timeline for the master plan, researchers need to continue their work on the property.  More than 900 species of plants and animals have been identified so far. And then there is the collection of historical and cultural data.

Brad Henley, CPW’s southeast region deputy manager, said, that the park is in data collection mode right now. “A lot of variables go into those times [on the timeline], depending on the natural resources we find,” he said. “We don’t have a timeline set in stone.”

However, he does know this: Although there really are no predetermined outcomes about what’s going to be at the park, “we want to create a wonderful visitor experience, that is what we want.”    Natural Resource Planner Bill Mangle explained that the property “has for eons been culturally significant.”

“The Raton Pass corridor has been significant for centuries. We are reaching out to Native American tribes to learn from them,” he said.  “Given the long human history, we know there are archeological sites there.”

Mayor Rico said, “I have never known about the species, animal and plants—to me, this is quite amazing.”

Rico said the city is looking at the best avenues for getting people from Trinidad to the park.  Recently, the county was awarded a state Department of Local Affairs grant for $150,000 to study this with the city.

He cited a study that University of Colorado students did last summer on the possible economic benefits to the area. “They mentioned the possibility of a minimum of 50,000 visitors to the park and to a maximum of 100,000 a year,” he said, “with a financial impact of $3 million to $13 million.”

“It will impact our entire area… Maybe we can take some of the impact off the other state parks, too, that are being loved to death right now.”

Rico also mentioned that City Councilwoman Erin Ogletree recently did a survey of Trinidad residents about their thoughts on “community readiness.” How will the city be prepared as the park opens? Her findings will be presented at a council work session Dec. 21.

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