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Since he moved to the village of Louviers 35 years ago, Jaime Smith has often stood in his back yard, surveyed the rolling grasslands behind his home and imagined the herds of buffalo that once roamed there. But lately, Smith has begun imagining something else on the horizon: bulldozers.
Smith lives 26 miles south of Denver in a secluded pocket of Douglas County, which is growing faster than any other county in the nation. Living in a place as beautiful and untouched as Louviers, Smith feared it would be only a matter of time before the town turned into another Highlands Ranch.
But last week DuPont, which built the village nearly a century ago, gave Smith a reason to breathe easier. As part of its 200-year- anniversary celebration, the company awarded Douglas County and the Conservation Fund 855 acres near Louviers for a nature preserve. The $3.7 million property, which includes more than a mile of Plum Creek and a large chunk adjoining the Woodhouse Wildlife Area, not only gives Louviers a buffer against development, but a link among other protected lands, as well.
"This particular property happens to be in the Chatfield Basin priority area," explains Cheryl Matthews, director of Douglas County's Division of Open Space and Natural Resources. "It provides one of the last key linkages between all of the preserved open space we have across that corridor, from the Pike National Forest to the Highlands Ranch Open Space Conservation Area. We're very excited and extremely appreciative for such a generous donation."
Louviers, named after a village in France, was founded in 1908 as DuPont sought to expand a dynamite-production empire created on the East Coast in 1802. In a clearing above Plum Creek, company executives found the perfect spot for their new operation, which included a factory, a church, a clubhouse, 85 homes -- and a dynamite factory.
Villagers worked at the factory, shopped at the company store, sent their children to the company school, had their hair cut at the company barbershop and danced at company events. DuPont, in turn, provided electricity and coal, planted lawns and gardens, and charged as little as $18 in monthly rent.
Between 1908 and 1971, the factory produced more than one billion pounds of dynamite, which was used for mining, oil exploration, and road and tunnel building. After the plant closed, many workers remained in Louviers to carry on the village tradition. The result is a 65-acre town of about 300 people that looks and feels almost the same as it did when DuPont ran things ("Blast From the Past," March 11, 1999). Louviers now ranks among Colorado's best-preserved company towns and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Julie Riber, a nine-year resident who writes the village newsletter, calls Louviers "our little bit of paradise." Thanks to DuPont, it might stay that way a little longer.
"We're pretty well protected," she says. "I feel a lot more confident."
Smith does, too. He still frets about Louviers being discovered by millionaires or overrun by tourists, and he'd still like to see an open-space greenbelt surrounding the entire village. But with the dedication of the DuPont land, that vision is almost complete.
"We're feeling pretty good about it," he says. "This gives protection and it also preserves the integrity for the village a great deal. If we can keep setting aside more open land, we might be able to shut [growth] down to a certain extent. Open space is the best urban renewal I know of."