Skip to main content

Natural Areas

Contact Information

  •   Dept Head: John Stokes
  •   PO Box 580, Fort Collins, CO 80522-0580
  •   1745 Hoffman Mill Road
    Fort Collins, CO 80524
  •   bmF0dXJhbGFyZWFzQGZjZ292LmNvbQ==
  •   970.416.2815
  •   8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (M-F, except for holidays)

Natural Areas Newsletter

Natural Areas 20th Anniversary

Natural areas are part of what makes Fort Collins such a special place to live. There are 39 natural areas to visit encompassing 35,000 acres with over 100 miles of trail. In 2012/2013 the community celebrated the two decades since the first citizen-initated sales tax that funds natural areas. Citizens in Fort Collins and Larimer County have voted to support natural areas sales tax ballot measures four more times since 1992! Thank you voters. Everyone was invited to help celebrate the 20th anniversary with a year of free activities.

Celebration Activities

20th anniversary logo

November 2012- Over 400 people celebrated natural areas at a party! See the photos or watch the video of the presentations here.

December- Enjoy the Celebrating Your Natural Areas video, watch it here.

January 2013- Everyone was invited to complete Your Passport to Natural Areas, a checklist of natural areas to visit, activities and volunteer opportunties.

February- The community was invited to contribute to the multi-media Natural Areas Journal by submitting a photo, written story or video.

March-Natural Areas staff and volunteers were part of the St. Patricks Day parade in downtown Fort Collins. See the photos here.

April -Citizens enjoyed two special events, Spring Break Detectives: Finding Nature's Clues and an Earth Day stewardship service project.

May- October- A special edition of Tracks & Trails (Your Guide to Free Natural Areas Events and Activities) was released including a new Junior Naturalist Program.

November-The year of celebration wraped-up with a look forward to the next 20 years of natural areas article in the Coloradoan.

Year by Year: Milestones in Natural Areas History

The Natural Areas Program began in 1992, as part of the City's Natural Resources Department. In 2012, the Program was elevated to Department status. The mission of the Natural Areas Department is to conserve and enhance lands with existing or potential natural areas values, lands that serve as community separators, agricultural lands, and lands with scenic values. Conservation of natural habitats and features is the highest priority, while providing opportunities for education and recreation for the Fort Collins community. The Department protects and enhances these lands through land conservation, land-use planning, management, maintenance, education, public improvements, enforcement, and private land stewardship.

  • Pre-1992
  • Fort Collins' Open Space Plan was adopted in 1974. Fort Collins tax initiatives in 1973 and 1984 funded land acquisitions along the foothills, Spring Creek, and Poudre River and early natural areas activities. Nearly 1,000 acres were protected as Open Spaces managed by the Parks Department prior to 1992.

  • 1992
  • The Natural Areas Program was established in October 1992 with the adoption of a resolution by City Council accepting the "Natural Areas Policy Plan."
  • The first citizen-initiated -cent sales tax was passed by citizens, which enabled the City to greatly increase its land conservation efforts and expand the natural areas systems.

  • 1993
  • Acquired the first parcels of Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area
  • The first known population in Larimer County of a rare, Federally-protected orchid - the Ute ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis) - was found near the foothills by a City staff botanist.
  • The Adopt-a-Natural Area Program was started. This program allows citizens to actively participate in the stewardship of their natural areas.

  • 1994
  • Acquired the first parcels of Coyote Ridge Natural Area
  • The Master Naturalist Program was established, later recognized as the first program of its kind in the nation. These trained volunteers teach adults and children about the values, habitats, plants and wildlife of natural areas. Master Naturalists give hundreds of programs to more than 5,000 people each year.
  • The Natural Areas Certification and Enhancement Fund was established to help citizens, homeowner associations, and other groups restore private natural areas.
  • Awarded first Great Outdoors Colorado grant for the conservation of 80 acres of Cathy Fromme Prairie.

  • 1995
  • The citizen-initiated County-wide "Help Preserve Open Space" sales tax for open space was passed. This tax funds acquisition and maintenance of open space for Larimer County and each of the communities in the county.

  • 1996
  • "City Plan," the City's comprehensive land use document, was adopted by Fort Collins City Council. Many critical and much needed environmental protections were included with an emphasis on open space, wildlife habitat, and community separators.
  • Along with nine other partners, was awarded a 5.9 million dollar Legacy Grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to develop a legacy for present and future generations that preserves and enhances publicly beneficial opportunities associated with the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson rivers and their watersheds.

  • 1997
  • The Building Community Choices -cent sales tax was approved by voters, with a major portion of the revenues being used to fund the Natural Areas Program.
  • The Natural Areas and Trails Ranger Program began.

  • 1998
  • The Prairie Dog Policy for City Natural Areas was adopted. Natural Areas is committed to the conservation of prairie dogs and acquiring critical prairie dog habitat.
  • Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area was opened to the public.
  • Natural Areas maintenance staff moved from Parks Department to the Natural Areas Program

  • 1999
  • Voters approved the extension of the "Help Preserve Open Space" sales tax to 2018. The City of Fort Collins receives a percentage of this tax based on sales tax collected and population.
  • Arapaho Bend Natural Area was opened to the public.
  • The Natural Areas Regulations were adopted by City Council.
  • The first annual Volunteer Appreciation Picnic was held. Volunteers remove weeds, plant native plants, educate, build trails and boardwalks, gather data, and clean up trash. Approximately 400 volunteers donate an average of more than 10,000 hours each year.

  • 2000
  • Cottonwood Hollow and Coyote Ridge natural areas were opened to the public.
  • Nine years of Winter Raptor Surveys were completed by volunteers. Their data showed that large tracts of land with prairie dog colonies provide critical feeding areas for wintering hawks and eagles in Fort Collins, and that raptor use of these sites decreases dramatically if recreational trails bisect the colonies.

  • 2001
  • Major land conservation in the Fossil Creek area was accomplished. Partnered with Larimer County to acquire and create the Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space.
  • Conserved Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area and began leasing the recreational rights on Fossil Creek Reservoir.

  • 2002
  • Offices and Maintenance Facility at Nix Natural Area (now Kingfisher Point Natural Area and Nix Farm offices) were completed.
  • Celebrated 10 years of accomplishments in October 2002.
  • General Management Guidelines for Natural Areas and Agricultural Lands managed by the City of Fort Collins Natural Resources Department replaced the original document adopted in 1994 to reflect updated management and ownership issues.
  • The Cache La Poudre Natural Areas Management Plan, which includes 17 natural areas along the river was adopted.
  • Running Deer Natural Area was opened to the public.

  • 2003
  • Open Space Yes! sales tax was initiated and passed by citizens, to provide funding for conserving local and regional natural areas, and community separators, from 2006 to 2030. This sales tax funding replaces the Building Community Choices sales tax which expired in 2005.
  • The Natural Areas Program purchased the Swift Farm Conservation Easement, the first conservation easement solely held by the City.

  • 2004
  • The Natural Areas Conservation and Stewardship Master Plan was adopted by City Council. This document outlines land conservation and acquisition priorities over the next ten years and directs regional land conservation.
  • Acquired 12,579 acres of the Soapstone Grazing Association, now a part of the 22,258-acre Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.
  • Partnered with Larimer County, The Nature Conservancy, and Legacy Land Trust on the Laramie Foothills - Mountains to Plains land conservation project, which was awarded an 11.6 million dollar GOCO grant to conserve over 54,000 acres of land.
  • Larimer County opened Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space, which was jointly purchased and developed in partnership with the Natural Areas Program.
  • Butterfly Woods, Colina Mariposa, Fossil Creek Wetlands, and Two Creeks Natural Areas were opened to the public.

  • 2005
  • The Fossil Creek Natural Areas Management Plan, which includes 11 natural areas in the Fossil Creek watershed, was completed.
  • Bobcat Ridge Natural Area Management Plan, for the City's first regional natural area was adopted.
  • Magpie Meander Natural Area was opened to the public.

  • 2006
  • Bobcat Ridge and Redtail Grove natural areas opened to the public.
  • Larimer County opens Blue Sky Trail across Rimrock and Devils Backbone Open Spaces, which were jointly purchased in partnership with the Natural Areas Program.

  • 2007
  • Wildlife Management Guidelines were adopted, replacing the Prairie Dog Management policy of 1998.
  • Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan, which includes 5 sites, was updated.
  • Took over management of Gateway (Park) Natural Area from Parks, which is located 5 miles up the Poudre Canyon.
  • Prairie Dog Meadow was opened to the public.
  • Primrose Studio at Reservoir Ridge was completed and opened to the public for use as a meeting and classroom facility.

  • 2008
  • Natural Areas received a large GOCO grant to help fund the construction of trails and other public improvements at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.
  • The City's Volunteer Trail Hosts and Larimer County's Volunteer Rangers were merged into one program, Volunteer Ranger Assistants.

  • 2009
  • Soapstone Prairie Natural Area opened to the public with over 40 miles of trail and two trail heads. At the Grand Opening Ceremony Kelly Ohlson and Linda Stanley and all citizens responsible for the Open Space Yes! Sales Tax were recognized.
  • Red Mountain Open Space opened to the public, which was purchased in partnership with Natural Areas.

  • 2010
  • Took over the management of Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space from Larimer County when the area was annexed into Fort Collins.
  • Partnered with Larimer County, GOCO, Windsor, and Timnath on the Three Bell conservation project to conserve 338 acres along the Poudre River and obtain a 1.2-mile trail easement for future extension of the Poudre River Trail.

  • 2011
  • Completed the update to the Cache La Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan for 17 natural areas along the Poudre River.
  • Established the Adopt-a-Trail Program for soft surface trails on natural areas.
  • Completed Phase I of a major wetland restoration project on McMurry Natural Area along the Poudre River.
  • Natural areas staff and volunteers offered 282 educational programs reaching nearly 12,000 people.

  • 2012
  • Partnered with Larimer County, Greeley, Windsor, and Timnath on the successful Poudre River GOCO Grant application, which will fund a trail head at Arapaho Bend Natural Area and the Poudre River Trail from the trail head across I-25 to connect with Timnath's section of the Poudre River Trail.
  • Pelican Marsh and Udall natural areas were opened to the public.
  • Partnered with Larimer County on the Regional Land Conservation, Stewardship and Recreation Study known as Our Lands, Our Future.

  • The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department will continue to conserve local and regional natural areas and community separator open spaces to protect high priority conservation areas and preserve outstanding examples of our natural and cultural heritage, while providing opportunities for education, scientific research, and appropriate recreation activities.