On Thursday, September 12 at 1:30 p.m. Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that he has issued an executive order to make Fisher’s Peak, near Trinidad, Colorado’s 42nd and newest state park.
The announcement comes quickly on the heels of the 30-square-mile Crazy French Ranch, which encompasses the peak, being purchased by The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land for $25.4 million. Further funds were pledged by Great Outdoors Colorado ($7.5 million), Colorado Parks and Wildlife ($7 million).
Governor Polis and Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs spoke to The Chronicle-News ahead of Thursday’s announcement.
Polis discussed what made this site so attractive for conservation.
“We believe that conservation is consistent with public access and in fact, from a conservation perspective, this location will connect additional habitat for wildlife for a total of 55 square miles,” said the governor. “It connects the James John State Wildlife Area, that’s 8,200 acres; the Lake Dorothy State Wildlife Area, which is 4,500 acres; and across the border, the Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico, that’s 3,600 acres. So, Fishers Peak will really be a crown gem in our state park system and for Trinidad residents. It’s been closed for so long, the opportunity to recreate there and take the family there for a picnic and then, of course, all the jobs in the area it will support and for tourists across the state and country that are coming to spend the day or days in southern Colorado.”
At roughly 19,200 acres, this state park will be the state’s second largest.
Even the public purchase of Fisher’s Peak seemed like a distant outcome to locals not so long ago, yet since the Crazy French Ranch purchase, things have moved at a rapid speed, culminating in Thursday’s announcement. Even before state park status, officials said they “hoped” to make the area open to the public in five years.
“I’m a guy who’s started companies and moves fast and to me, that five years, is way too long,” said Governor Polis. “So we’re going to be implementing real recreational opportunities, as soon as feasible, no later than January 1, 2021. And I’d love to get people on for public access in the Fall of 2020, but certainly no later than January 2021. We won’t have the full build out of trails necessarily, but we want trails, a visitor’s center, campsites and the normal recourses that have come to be associated with our high quality state park system.”
Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs intimated that the governor was pushing this state park at a speed that local leaders desired.
Said Gibbs, “I feel like the governor has been responsive to what folks have been saying, whether it’s the county commissioners in Las Animas County, or the Mayor, or the city council, or the business community, the chamber of commerce director I spoke to today, they want this to happen as quickly as possible. And so, the governor is going to be signing this executive order that will put the motions to pick up a planning process to examine what best use is for your community and we want to engage your community in that process, too.”
The last state park created in Colorado was Staunton State Park in 2013.
This newest state park could owe a part of its creation to the 2018 Future Generations Act. A state park around Fisher’s Peak seems to spearhead the goals of the act and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
Said Gibbs, “The Future Generations Act that was passed in bill 143 told CPW to identify and plan and develop new state parks. This executive order does just that. It puts the motions going forward to plan and prioritize and the govorner feels, while working with all the partners that this is the best location to make it a reality and create our next state park. So really our goals of habitat conservation, our goals of recreational opportunities for Colorado residents, and our goals of using our public land as an economic growth engine really all align in this area. This will be great for job creation in southern Colorado. An enormous opportunity for residents in Pueblo County and other counties to recreate and of course with connecting it to some of the other wildlife habitat in the area, an amazing area to permanently preserve for the protected diversity of our wildlife.”
Polis confirmed where this state park might rank. “You’ll be our second biggest state park, right behind State Forest State Park in Jackson County which most people view that as being as large as a national forest. We expect it, with its iconic views and convenient location, to be among our more popular state parks in our system.”
Gibbs said CPW Southeast Director Brett Ackerman would be heading up a stakeholder process for The City of Trinidad and Las Animas County as the next step in the process.
Said Governor Polis, “We want to hear from residents from Trinidad. We’ve already had a bit of the process around the property, kind of a visioning process that I think you’ve reported on. We had input from over 300 area residents. But in terms of those recreational opportunities, we just completed a statewide assessment and the CPW Southeast Director Bret Ackerman, of course, has had many community meetings. [In addition to] Trinidad residents, we’re also serving people statewide who might recreate there. We had over 1,000 people who provided input on what they want to see in state parks and we just had a summary of that presented to our commissioners. We are trying to align those recreational opportunities with what people want to see and what they want to do on our public lands.”