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Natural Areas

The Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan Update

The management plan that applies to Coyote RidgePineridgeMaxwell and Reservoir Ridge natural areas and the Foothills Trail is due for an update in 2019. Read the 2007 Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan.

Work on the plan includes setting goals and strategies for promoting ecological integrity, protecting natural and cultural resources, and connecting people to nature. The process for developing the Foothills Plan also includes analyzing the existing management plan, evaluating visitor amenities (including trails) and facilitating a public engagement process.  

The final Management Plan product is planned to be released in the third quarter of 2019. To achieve the outcomes described in the plan, a handful of specific projects will be outlined to be accomplished in the next 1-3 years. The final Management Plan will describe goals and establish a timeline for management decisions.

The Foothills Plan Public Engagement Process

The Natural Areas Department is facilitating a comprehensive public engagement process that includes on-site surveys, feedback from non-visitors, stakeholder events, a hike with a planner activity, and due to expected high attendance, two open houses.

Ways to Get Involved

Learn more


Frequently Asked Questions
What is City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department’s priority, conservation or recreation?

The Natural Areas Department mission is to conserve and enhance lands with natural resource, agricultural and scenic values, while providing meaningful education and appropriate recreation opportunities. While conservation is the top priority, appropriate recreation and meaningful education are important too.

How much trail do we have in Larimer County?

City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Trail System

  Total Miles of Trail Multi-use Hiking/Horse Only Hiking Only Hike/Bike Only
Total by use   78.2 3.2 9.5 18
Total 108.9        
City of Fort Collins Foothills Natural Areas 19 19      

County-wide All Agency Trail Mileage

Type Miles
Multi-use 280.3
Hiking only 75.2
Hiking/Horse  468.1
Hiking/Bike 21.8
Bike/Trail Run/Horse 2.8
Motorized 14.5
Paved Recreational Trail 75.8
Total Miles of Trail 938.5
What is City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department’s plan to address increasing population and demand for recreational opportunities?

The Natural Areas Department has an active land conservation program. Priorities include properties with existing or potential habitat values, wildlife corridors, trails, and trail connectivity potential. The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department does not work in isolation and will continue to collaborate with the City’s Parks Planning Department, Larimer County and other public land agencies to conserve land and create trail opportunities. 

However, as the community continues to experience significant population growth, natural areas inevitably will attract more visitors. In fact, regional public land managers are reporting greatly increased visitor use.  This is great news in that the community is getting out to experience public lands.  At the same time, the Natural Areas Department recognizes recreation pressure and population growth as key challenges.

In sum, the Department will continue to emphasize its conservation mission, while simultaneously exploring recreation options associated with newly conserved and existing land. In addition, parking lot and crowding management strategies may need to be considered. 


How is the Larimer County region addressing increasing population and demand for recreational opportunities?

The City of Fort Collins is actively partnering with other regional land conservation and recreation provider agencies. Recent projects include:

  • Long View Trail- This 4.4-mile paved trail through four natural areas and open spaces connects Fort Collins and Loveland and their trail systems. It opened in August, 2018.
  • Fossil Creek Trail Connection- This 1.2 mile segment of paved trail through Redtail Grove Natural Area connects the east side of Fort Collins to the west side. It connects visitors to four natural areas, the Mason Street Trail, the Powerline Trail and the Front Range Trail.
  • Prairie Ridge Natural Area- this City of Loveland site located just south of Coyote Ridge Natural Area will provide about 3 miles of additional trail in the foothills and connect to the Coyote Ridge trail system. Prairie Ridge is scheduled to open in late 2019.
  • On the Rocks Trail at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area- this scenic and unique trail was proposed by the mountain biking community and is being constructed in partnership with many community volunteers to provide an advanced technical mountain bike route and scenic hiking trail.
  • Maxwell Natural Area Expansion- Just over 53 acres of grasslands and shrublands adjacent to the Foothills Trail and Maxwell Natural Area were acquired by City of Fort Collins Natural Areas from the State Board of Agriculture in late 2018. A variety of wildlife frequents the newly conserved land including mule deer and mountain lions. About a half mile of additional trail are now part of Maxwell Natural Area.

How should I avoid crowds and full parking lots?

Visitors are encouraged to recreate outside of the busiest hours (which are 10 a.m. -3 p.m. on weekends). Parking lots are sized to regulate the number of visitors to the natural area to minimize impacts to wildlife, habitat, and to maintain visitor enjoyment. If parking lots are full, visitors must find an alternate natural area or come back another time.

How do trails impact habitat and conservation values?

Plant communities can be altered near trails and other disturbed sites where invasive plants can be introduced.  This can have a particularly detrimental effect if a trail goes through or near certain rare plant populations as well as areas with well-established native vegetation.

Recreation activities can cause wildlife to avoid habitat areas. Recreation can be stressful for wildlife which means they have less energy for reproduction or survival activities.  When wildlife avoid high-use trails, it could mean they have limited access to high-quality habitat, food sources or denning sites.

A common theme in studies seeking to measure recreational impacts on wildlife is to determine the area in proximity to a recreational activity where wildlife is impacted, or the “area of influence.” The area of influence is often different for different species or habitats and could include parameters such as distance from a trail that a large mammal is likely to flee or distance that nesting birds are impacted. For example, mule deer at Antelope Island State Park in Utah had a 70% flush rate within 100 meters from a recreationist on-trail (Taylor and Knight 2003).  Nest survival of certain grassland and forest birds was shown to increase further from trails in a study in Boulder County (Miller et. al., 1998). The authors found that the “area of influence” for most species in this study was 75 meters. While trail activity is found to have impacts on wildlife it is also important to note that off-trail use has greater impacts than on-trail use (Taylor and Knight, 2003). 

Miller, S. G., R. L. Knight, and C.K. Miller. 1998. Influence of recreational trails on breeding bird communities. Ecological Applications. 8(1):162-169.

Taylor, A. R., and R. L. Knight. 2003. Wildlife responses to recreation and associated visitor perceptions. Ecological Applications. 13(4): 951-963.