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Regional Conservation
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Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
 
What is regional conservation, why is the City doing it, and what's the latest news?
Background

In 1996, voters passed Building Community Choices. This sales tax legislation included a 1/4 cent portion for natural areas conservation. It also included language authorizing the City to engage in regional conservation. In 2003, voters passed the “Open Space, Yes!” 1/4 cent sales tax that again called for land conservation in local areas, community separators, and regional areas.

Acquisitions

In 2003 and 2004, several large regional properties were conserved, including Indian Creek Ranch – a joint acquisition by Larimer County and Fort Collins; Bobcat Ridge; and the Soapstone Prairie. The Indian Creek property comprises a large portion of a hogback between Fort Collins and Loveland. This 1,500-acre property will be managed by Larimer County as an addition to Devils Backbone and will provide phenomenal trail connections enabling a 16-mile corridor from the Devils Backbone near Loveland all the way to Lory State Park. Bobcat Ridge is a gorgeous 2,600-acre property near Masonville about 20 minutes from the southwestern corner of Fort Collins. The City plans to have an initial trail system open to the public by May of 2006.

Of the three properties, Soapstone Prairie clearly is the most ambitious effort. At $7.3 million, Soapstone Prairie is the most expensive natural area purchase ever. Nevertheless, the purchase price represents a small portion of the total revenues to the program from inception to date, and an even smaller portion from today through the scheduled expiration of “Open Space,Yes!” in 2030
Soapstone Prairie Natural Area
Many have questioned why the City would purchase a property that is 25 miles from town and that will take four to five hours to visit. In the end, the long-term conservation and recreation opportunities were so phenomenal that the City moved ahead with the purchase. Some of the factors involved in the decision included the once-ever nature of the opportunity to conserve the property, the fact that no other entity appeared able or willing at the time to conserve the property, the sheer beauty and incredible natural values of the property; and the hope that the City’s investment in Soapstone Prairie would be leveraged several times over with other partners, including Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Larimer County, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
Laramie Foothills: Mountains to Plains Project

In late 2004, the City’s hopes were realized when GOCO announced that it would invest $11.6 million in the Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains Project, a joint effort by the City, the County, and TNC. Including donations by the County, TNC, and private landowners, what the City helped initiate with its $7.3 million purchase of Soapstone Prairie has turned into a $25 million conservation project that will help conserve private and public lands amounting to over 55,000 acres in northern Larimer County.

As part of the Laramie Foothills project, the County plans to own and manage approximately 6,000 acres of the Red Mountain Ranch known as the “Big Hole” immediately west of Soapstone Prairie. Together, the City and County properties will make one of the most spectacular and interesting natural areas open to the public in Northern Colorado . Both properties are planned to be open in 2009. In the meantime, the City will be providing guided tours to the public on a regular basis.
Community Separators

Community separators are defined areas that lie between Fort Collins and surrounding communities and that are relatively free of development. The objective of the City’s land conservation program is to acquire development rights in these areas to help maintain a rural landscape as well as separation between Fort Collins and surrounding communities. Development rights are typically acquired in the form of a conservation easement, a legally binding document that restricts development rights in perpetuity. There are four community separators including Loveland, Wellington, Timnath, and Windsor. The Loveland separator essentially is completed, while the other three separators are still in progress.

In 2004, three important community separator conservation easements were acquired. Two are in the Wellington community separator and were acquired in partnership with Larimer County. The underlying ownership of the land was acquired by Colorado State University’s Agricultural Research, Development, and Education Center (ARDEC). Totaling 209 acres, the easements were acquired on active farmland, and the land will continue to be farmed as part of ARDEC. In addition to the Wellington conservation easements, an 80-acre conservation easement was acquired in the Timnath community separator.