For the first time since 2013, Colorado is getting a new state park — and outdoor recreation advocates hope it can become one of the crown jewels of the state's 42-park system.
Crazy French Ranch, a 19,200-acre property located along the New Mexico border near Trinidad, has offered limited trophy-hunting access to private clients since 1995, but features no roads or major improvements and has otherwise been kept undisturbed since the days of the Santa Fe Trail in the early nineteenth century. The property includes Fishers Peak, a well-known landmark and the highest point in Colorado east of Interstate 25, which will become the centerpiece of the new park — the state's second largest, after the 70,000-acre State Forest State Park near Walden.
"If anybody has been in the area, you can't miss Fishers Peak," said Governor Jared Polis, announcing plans to create the new state park at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources today, September 12. "It will really be one of our most iconic and incredible state parks."
Polis today signed an executive order directing the DNR to establish the state park and "implement meaningful recreational opportunities" on the property, which he hopes to see open to the public by fall of next year.
"We expect to make the kinds of improvements that people expect of our state parks," Polis said. "That means a visitors' center, it means campgrounds, and it means trails."
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Supporters of the park project hope to balance opportunities for recreation with the chance to preserve the area's pristine wilderness. Together with adjacent state wildlife areas and Sugarite Canyon State Park just across the border in New Mexico, the new park would help establish over 55 square miles of contiguous protected land.
"The 19,000 acres serve as a critical wildlife corridor connecting the grasslands to the east and the mountains to the west," said DNR executive director Dan Gibbs. "It's home to herds of elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, mountain lions and black bears."
The establishment of a state park on the Crazy French Ranch property comes as a result of years of collaboration between the City of Trinidad, conservation groups and state agencies. In January, the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land jointly purchased the property from its previous owners for $25.4 million. The state now plans to purchase the land from the two groups, though the exact financial details are still being finalized.
"The wild and diverse landscape of this ranch deserved to be protected and experienced," Carlos Fernandez, Colorado state director for the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. "Working together, we can ensure that the area's many amazing natural features are preserved for future generations to learn from and explore, while providing extraordinary recreation opportunities and bolstering the local economy for Trinidad, Las Animas County and the entire State of Colorado."