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Natural Areas Annual Report

Contact Information

  •   Dept Head: John Stokes
Lands Loaded With Life
McMurray Natural Area
Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area

At first glance, some people see undeveloped lands as "underutilized lands that are just sitting there doing nothing." Look closely! Natural areas are teeming with life. They provide recreation, wildlife homes and travel corridors, native plant habitats, educational and research opportunities, mountain vistas, and more.

Recreation - There are over 23 miles of natural surface trail. Pineridge alone has over six miles of trails. In addition to natural surface trails, the paved Poudre River, Spring Creek, and Fossil Creek trails go through Cathy Fromme Prairie, Nix, and many other natural areas. Trails are used for hiking, biking, skate boarding, on-leash dog walking, horseback riding, birdwatching, and just escaping the pressures of everyday life.

Enforcement - Natural Areas and Trails Rangers provide assistance to visitors and protect ecological resources. In 2003, rangers developed a comprehensive trail marking system at Pineridge Natural Area. In 2004, rangers will initiate a new volunteer mountain bike patrol and extend the number of locations with updated trail signage including the Foothills Trail.

Painted Turtle
Western Painted Turtle at Arapaho Bend Natural Area

Education – Under the leadership of the Natural Areas Program’s education staff, volunteer Master Naturalists provide education and interpretation in natural areas for school classes and other groups who want to learn about nature. On-site interpretive features also provide valuable information in natural areas. Education staff completed the Pineridge interpretive project in 2003, educating visitors about nature and providing a map of the site’s recreational trails.

Research – In 2003, the Natural Areas Program’s maintenance staff conducted a prairie dog research project. The project found that there are 614 acres within Fort Collins’ natural areas (spread among 10 sites) occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs. Density estimates indicate approximately 8,400 prairie dogs living on these sites. We intend to repeat the research in future years to monitor increases or decreases in acreage or density of prairie dogs.

Pineridge Natural Area
Pineridge Natural Area

Wildlife - Natural areas not only provide habitat for wildlife within those areas, but also enhance opportunities to see wildlife throughout the Fort Collins area. Checklists indicate more bird species (334) have been seen within the 48,000-acre Fort Collins Growth Management Area than in the 2.2 million-acre Yellowstone National Park (311 species), 193,060-acre Pawnee National Grassland (301 species), or 265,726-acre Rocky Mountain National Park (280 species). Residents often report seeing bald eagles, pelicans, herons, and other exciting wildlife right in the middle of town. Local natural areas make such sightings possible.

Plant Life - An amazing diversity of native plants live in Fort Collins’ natural areas. Foothills sites alone (Coyote Ridge, Pineridge, Maxwell, and Reservoir Ridge) are home to over 30 native tree and shrub species, over 50 native grass and grass-like plant species, and over 170 native wildflower and vine species. Natural areas along waterways and on the prairie are home to native riparian and prairie species.