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Natural Areas

Your Natural Areas#

Special habitats like prairies, foothills, waterways, and forests are conserved for wildlife and people by the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department.  Everyone is welcome to treasure and steward these beloved outdoor places. Thanks to community-driven sales tax ballot measures, there are 52 conserved natural areas and 114 miles of trail with more being added each year. See the Natural Areas Map (pdf).

Natural Areas are special places that people care about, these beloved conserved lands are in your neighborhoods, around your city and in your region.

Within a natural area you can see, touch, feel, and experience natural and cultural treasures. The network of conserved natural areas is integral to the identity and vitality of the Fort Collins community. Natural Areas are about ecological values, quality of life, economic health, and what matters to residents. 

Most Fort Collins natural areas are open for your enjoyment and recreation from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. except for Bobcat Ridge Natural AreaGateway Natural Area, and Soapstone Prairie Natural Area which are open from dawn to dusk. Reservoir Ridge Natural Area's parking lots at Overland Trail Rd. and Michaud Lane are open from dawn to dusk.

Thank you, voters! Your community-initiated city and county sales taxes fund the Natural Areas Department, including land conservation, trails, and educational programs. Funds from these taxes, by law, are dedicated to the Natural Areas Department and may not be used for other parts of the city government. More details about the finances are in Natural Areas Annual Reports.

Mission

The Natural Areas Department's mission is to conserve and enhance lands with natural resource, agricultural and scenic values, while providing meaningful education and appropriate recreation opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Natural Areas Important?#

Natural Areas are valuable for many reasons!

  • Aesthetic - the opportunity to hear a creek babbling, see a bird soaring, watch the sun reflect off a dewy spider web, smell a wildflower; these are all experiences to treasure.
  • Ecological - natural areas filter our water and air, prevent flooding and provide habitat for wildlife and native plants.
  • Education - natural areas are an outdoor classroom for students of every age.
  • Scientific - natural areas are used by scientists to collect data.
  • Economic - natural areas make Fort Collins an attractive place to do business.
  • Cultural - natural areas protect traces of our past and have cultural connections.
  • Agricultural- conserved working farms and ranches support local food production, help minimize urban sprawl and provide a community connection to rural culture.
  • Recreation - natural areas provide a respite from the urban environment. Natural Areas are a place to hike, bike, walk your dog, ride your horse, bird watch, fish, create art, write, or just enjoy some quiet time outdoors.
  • Add your own reason here!

A History of Community-Driven Conservation#

Year by Year: Milestones in Natural Areas History#

2021
  • Katie Donahue was hired as the new Natural Areas Department Director. 
  • Bobcat Ridge Natural Area reopened after the Cameron Peak Fire and restoration efforts continued. 
  • Soaring Vista Natural Area opened to the public. 
  • Informed by public engagement in 2019, about 3100’ of trail at Maxwell Natural Area was repaired to improve access for a wide range of users, protect ecological integrity, and restore natural drainage patterns. 
2020
  • The Cameron Peak Fire burned Bobcat Ridge Natural Area creating a unique restoration opportunity. 
  • Community members visited natural areas in record numbers during the pandemic, visitation grew between 13% and 214%. 
  • Two Creeks Natural Area doubled in size with newly conserved land. 
  • 21,518 acres were actively managed to improve habitat for plants and wildlife. 
2019
  • 93% of residents ranked the quality of Natural areas and Open Space as very good or good. 
  • 1,245 volunteers contributed 16,404 hours, the equivalent time of more than 7 employees with an economic impact of $459,659 
  • 24 acres were restored at Kingfisher Point Natural Area 
  • Parking availability at Reservoir Ridge Natural Area became viewable via webcam 
  • ROOTS Teen Club won Colorado Open Space Alliance’s award for Outstanding Visitor Engagement 
2018
2017
2016
  • The Plug in to Nature project (aka Project Outdoors) was initiated to connect northwest Fort Collins families to the outdoors through places, programs, and pathways. 
  • Nature in the City is housed in the Natural Areas Department and began implementing its strategic plan including a community science volunteer project and five pilot projects to support a connected open space network for people and wildlife. 
  • Tanglewood Natural Area opens to the public and Goose Hollow Natural Area was acquired. 
2015
  • 734 acres of wildlife habitat is conserved northwest of Lory State Park. 
  • Bison sprinted onto the plains of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area as this iconic species was reintroduced and welcomed home. The milestone was celebrated with honored guests from tribal nations, dignitaries and bison lovers of all ages.  
  • Shields Street River Access improves parking and safety issues. 
  • The 2-mile trail around Rigden Reservoir at Arapaho Bend Natural Area was opened. 
2014
  • Endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, making Fort Collins the first municipality to support the recovery of the species. The accomplishment was recognized by the Colorado Open Space Alliance with a coveted award for Outstanding Achievement. 
  • Larimer County’s Help Preserve Open Space sales tax ballot measure was approved by 82% of voters.  
  • The Lindenmeier: Ancient Lives, Ancient Dreams symposium focused on Soapstone Prairie Natural Areas’ famous archeological site.  
  • The Natural Areas Department’s outstanding educational program and team was recognized with an award from the North American Alliance for Environmental Education. 
  • The Land Conservation and Stewardship Master Plan was adopted. 
2013
  • The floods in September were devastating to nearby communities. Fort Collins experienced less damage to infrastructure, homes, and businesses in part due to less precipitation than nearby areas, but also due to conserved land along the river that helped absorb flood waters.  
  • The Overland Trail Road trailhead of Reservoir Ridge Natural Area was opened. 
  • The state endangered northern redbelly dace fish (Phoxinus eos) was reintroduced to a creek at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
  • An extensive river and floodplain restoration project at North Shields Ponds Natural Area included removal of the Josh Ames diversion structure.  
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 Natural Areas Program was elevated and renamed the Natural Areas Department.
2011
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.
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.
2008
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.
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.
2005
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 property, 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 WoodsColina MariposaFossil Creek Wetlands, and Two Creeks Natural Areas were 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
  • 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.
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
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 Ranger Program began.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.