Colorado’s Newest State Park Will Add to Trinidad’s Growing Momentum

Fisher's Peak (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

It’s the first thing you notice on your way to Trinidad – coming into view before the first couple of buildings that freckle the surrounding desert plain. Looming above Trinidad, its blunted summit reaching 9,360 feet towers Fisher’s Peak. This unique landmark has been a familiar part of the horizon to the people of Trinidad for generations. Yet Fisher’s Peak has always remained out of reach to them.

On September 12th, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order officially making Fisher’s Peak Colorado’s 42nd state park.

The land on which the peak sits has been privately owned until just this year, depriving residents and visitors to Las Animas County of all the potential ecological and recreational opportunities the property could afford. But thanks to the dedication of various conservation groups and Trinidad city officials, all that is beginning to change. And access to the mysterious mountain may soon be granted at last.

Fisher’s Peak is the feature of an approximately 30 square mile ranch in Trinidad previously owned by Frenchman Marc Jung and his wife Evelyn in the mid-1980s. When Marc passed away, Evelyn put the ranch, dubbed the Crazy French Ranch, on the market where it lingered for close to thirty years at a whopping $50 million value. Two years ago, city leaders in Trinidad approached Mrs. Jung to see if she would be open to the possibility of selling a roughly 4,000-acre portion of the ranch to the city, which they planned to convert into a new outdoor recreation space for the public.

To help acquire the portion of Crazy French Ranch, Trinidad city officials sought the help of two major conservation groups: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL). But TNC and TPL were thinking bigger – suggesting that the city purchase the entire 19,200-acre ranch outright. With an annual budget of little over $12 million, the proposition just wasn’t feasible for the city of Trinidad. Not without help, that is.

Earlier this year, TNC and TPL acquired the Crazy French Ranch for close to $30 million. Right on the heels of the acquirement, Great Outdoors Colorado and Colorado Parks and Wildlife pledged another combined $15 million toward a proposed plan to turn the ranch, including Fisher’s Peak, into a modern-day state park over the course of the next five years. For now, the ranch remains closed to the public.

The ranch itself couldn’t be in better condition for becoming public land. The Jungs took great care of the property, and prioritized keeping it in prime condition for the sake of the wildlife that also call it home and to preserve the ranch’s cultural history. They built virtually no structures on the property in all the years they owned it. They also didn’t allow logging or oil development on the property. It’s essentially a blank slate just waiting to be colored in the vision of Trinidad’s community.

The acquirement of the Crazy French Ranch in Trinidad calls to mind a similar instance: Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs was also inaccessible to the public until recently. Just last year, Cheyenne Mountain State Park opened the Dixon Trail – the first trail to allow hikers to make the trek all the way to the top of the park’s namesake mountain. It was a slow-moving process, the city having officially purchased the land close to 20 years ago. Ongoing construction to the trail was only just deemed officially complete last month. But it was ultimately a success: popularity of the trail boomed, the public turning out in flocks to be some of the first in recent history to summit the elusive landmark.

Just as the people of Colorado Springs can finally call Cheyenne Mountain their own, so are the people of Trinidad on the brink of that same sentiment toward Fisher’s Peak. People are driven by some enigmatic desire to leave their mark. Something about being able to say that your own footsteps traverse the heights of the mountain you live at the base of invokes the pioneer spirit, and fosters a sense of pride in the place you live.

There are two core goals for the project that the diverse group of private and nonprofit partners involved are committed to uphold: the resources will be protected, and recreational opportunities will connect the public with those resources. Their focus on blending conservation and recreation has the potential to set the precedent for future park development in Colorado.

The project’s success could make Trinidad’s future all the more bright. The notoriously boom-bust town has already made great strides toward its modern development. As part of its “Space to Create” program, Trinidad Artspace is working on the development of affordable housing and workspaces marketed toward artists and creatives. Plans also include erecting a new community center as well as the restoration of the historic Fox Theatre. The proposed Fisher’s Peak park would be the cherry on top of an effort to round out the rehabilitation of Trinidad’s identity as a new-age rural-southern Colorado destination anchored in a lifestyle that weaves creativity with recreation.

Engaging residents of Colorado in the outdoors is the key to fostering the next generation of public-lands advocates. By passing the Future Generations Act last year, legislators sent a message that the conservation of public lands is a statewide priority. The document outlined 10 goals for Colorado Parks and Wildlife by 2025, which included the planning of a new state park. Governor Polis was quick to encourage plans for more than just one, but a whole new generation of Colorado state parks. For Fisher’s Peak to be pioneering this next phase of park development is an exciting prospect for the future of Trinidad. The cultural, educational and economic possibilities are endless and expected to be a boon for the old mining county.

The story has been updated to reflect the announcement that Fisher’s Peak will become a Colorado State Park. The story first appeared in PULP’s September 2019 Issue. 

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