History of the Mountain Area Land Trust

Original article by Mike Strunk

An Idea Begins

On April 4, 1992 at the Hiwan Homestead Museum, Linda Rockwell called the first meeting of a small group of Evergreen residents to explore the possibility of creating a land trust in Evergreen. The Canyon Courier summarized the meeting with an editorial entitled “Idea Worth Pursuing.” Two months later, after pondering the scope of the organization and several possible names, pro bono attorney Jerry Dahl prepared by-laws and incorporation papers, and filed for tax-exempt status for the Mountain Area Land Trust. Dan Pike, Sylvia Brockner, Dave Scruby, and Linda Dahl were named its first directors. The first annual membership meeting was held in April 1993, when the first officers were elected: Dan Pike, President; Hank Alderfer, Vice President; Chuck Hazelrigg, Treasurer; and Linda Dahl, Secretary.

First Projects

At the first annual meeting in 1993, three projects were identified as the group’s highest priorities: preservation of Noble Meadow and the Beaver Brook Watershed and the establishment of the Bergen Park Elementary School Nature Trail. All three projects were successfully accomplished.

Public Projects

Certainly the most visible projects accomplished by the Mountain Area Land Trust are those that ultimately end up in public ownership, and are thus open to use by local residents and visitors. In these cases, MALT works as a facilitator to help arrange the acquisition of property by a public agency from a willing landowner. Noble Meadow and Blair Ranch, parcels now managed by Jefferson County Open Space, and Beaver Brook Watershed, now owned by the U.S. Forest Service and Clear Creek County Open Space, are examples of this type of project. In these cases, the value of the land for wildlife and other natural systems is preserved, while making these public lands available for hiking, mountain biking, horse-back riding, and similar uses consistent with resource protection. The stories of the preservation of these public projects make for interesting reading.

Noble Meadow

Noble Meadow, one of the magnificent meadows that helps define the character of Evergreen, is protected for eternity – thanks to those who worked for 20 years to preserve it. The native grasslands, edged with aspens and accented by historic barns and frequents elk herds, are enjoyed by thousands of travelers each day. Alas, many new residents of the area and most visitors on their way to Mount Evans on Squaw Pass Road are not aware of how close this mountain treasure came to being lost to development in the late 1970s.

The land at the intersection of State Highways 74 and 103, like much of the mountain area, was first settled in the 1800s and then went through a succession of owners. In the late 1960s, local resident Homer Noble and business partner Edward Gaylord purchased the meadow. Noble ran cattle and raised horses on it until the late 1970s. He loved the land and was keenly interested in western history, in particular the West’s ranching heritage. However, Noble, like many other ranchers, found that increasing urbanization caused many problems. Figuring that the land would eventually be developed by someone, Noble and Gaylord began planning for development.

Development plans for the meadow were well on their way in 1978. A small but dedicated number of Evergreen residents in a group called Protect Our Mountain Environment (POME) began working to protect this treasured land. POME’s efforts resulted in raising community awareness and delayed the project until 1982. In 1983, another citizens’ advocacy group was formed in response to potential development – Evergreen North Area Balanced Land-use Effort (ENABLE). That organization continued working to save the meadow for more than ten years.

The meadow went through several changes of ownership in the early 1990s. In 1994, MALT led the “Save Noble Meadow” campaign. Because of an outpouring of support by the public and many businesses and non-profit groups, a bond issue was approved by 97% of the voters to purchase the property, an additional $200,000 cash was raised by the community, and Jefferson County Open Space was persuaded to buy the portion of the more than 400-acre parcel west of Evergreen Parkway. The owner at that time, local resident John Thompson, agreed to sell and donate the meadow portion of the property with the understanding that he would develop the office/commercial complex that now lies south of the Buchanan ponds. Thompson also sold and donated land to the Evergreen Park and Recreation District (EPRD) for the development of the Buchanan Park recreation center and ball fields. The Colorado Department of Transportation secured the right-of-way, constructed Evergreen Parkway, and turned the old Highway 74 into what is now known as Bergen Parkway. Noble Meadow was saved, and the eventual result turned out to be win-win for everyone.

Today, the western-most part of Noble Meadow has been sold to a private individual, with a conservation easement held by Jefferson County Open Space, so its viewshed will forever be enjoyed by travelers along Highway 103 toward Mount Evans. The eastern part of the meadow remains Jefferson County Open Space, and a trail through this area connects the Pioneer Trail in Buchanan Park, east of Evergreen Parkway, with the original part of Elk Meadow Open Space to the south. The Buchanan ponds, recreation center and ball fields are owned and managed by the EPRD, much to the enjoyment of thousands of users annually. And motorists driving over the Elk Bridge on Highway 74, and up Highway 103 toward Mount Evans, can enjoy the open lands, old barns and elk herds.

Noble Meadow – one of the most visible, sometimes contentious and ultimately the most appreciated open land preservation projects in the mountain area – was protected through the initiative of a few citizens and the vast outpouring of community support. This project was the first successful preservation effort undertaken by the Mountain Area Land Trust. This partnership among the community, a landowner, and government has served as a model for many of MALT’s subsequent preservation efforts.

Beaver Brook Watershed

Fifteen years in the making, about 6,000 acres of spectacular scenery and important wildlife habitat near Evergreen have been preserved with widespread support by mountain communities and the efforts of the Mountain Area Land Trust and other organizations.

The Beaver Brook Watershed lies roughly four miles west of Bergen Park along Squaw Pass Road (Highway 103) as it winds toward Echo Lake and Mount Evans. In the late 1800s, Beaver Brook was used mostly for ranching and logging. As the City of Golden grew in the early 20th century, citizens began looking to the mountains as a source of water. The city acquired the Beaver Brook Watershed, but by 1996 no longer needed it. Wanting to preserve the scenic and wildlife resources, the Mountain Area Land Trust began working with Golden and several local, state and federal agencies to find a way to protect the land. In 1998, MALT and the U.S. Forest Service developed a strategy for the federal agency to acquire the property over a period of several years. This plan called for nearly 6,000 acres to be preserved as open space for public use. It also meant that MALT and its partners would need to raise more than $21 million to buy the land from the City of Golden. Over the next seven years, MALT, with the enthusiastic bipartisan support of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, led an intensive campaign to secure federal funding for the project. A complex set of negotiations resulted in most of the land being added to the adjoining Arapaho National Forest. The remainder was acquired by Clear Creek County Open Space using a $5.2 million loan from Great Outdoors Colorado, a state lottery-funded entity, and money provided by Jefferson County Open Space and MALT. The loan was to be repaid as additional Congressional funds were appropriated, thus allowing the Forest Service to acquire the land then held by Clear Creek County.

Although the multi-year negotiation was extremely complex, one thing is perfectly clear: Beaver Brook Watershed is protected from development and is open to public use. Motorists and bikers who travel up Squaw Pass Road in the fall to view the golden aspen groves pass through the watershed for about seven miles. Hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers enjoy the network of old trails and dirt lanes; picnickers carry their food to sit on rocks and logs at their favorite view-points; and photographers and artists capture the scenic beauty on film, media cards, and canvas.

Perhaps most importantly, the wildlife values of the Watershed are protected for deer, elk, bear, mountain lion, and many other species. This habitat is part of a 20-mile long corridor that extends from Elk Meadow Open Space all the way to the Mount Evans Wilderness Area.

Thanks to widespread community support, a tremendous amount of work by many volunteers with several non-profit organizations, and great cooperation by several public agencies and elected officials, the Beaver Brook Watershed is protected for all time. It is one more instance when citizen initiative has made an enormous difference in determining the fate of our mountain landscape.

Blair Ranch

For decades, the historic Blair Ranch west of Evergreen Lake was used as a retreat, where the Blair family could escape the summer heat of the Great Plains. Upon the passing of the Blair family elders in the early 2000s, Blair Ranch was listed for sale. Because of its prime location and spectacular setting, interest by developers was keen and a closing was imminent. Fortunately, the Mountain Area Land Trust stepped in, raised community awareness, and facilitated a purchase of the ranch by Jefferson County Open Space.

Today, Blair Ranch ties together Denver Mountain Parks land on Elephant Butte with Jefferson County’s Alderfer-Three Sisters Open Space. The two agencies are working cooperatively to develop a trail system that serves hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. More than 2,000 acres of contiguous open lands in this area are protected for recreational use and wildlife habitat.

MALT’s accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of dozens of committed volunteers and the community at-large over the many years.

Interviews: Linda Rockwell, Linda Kirkpatrick, Mel Andrew, Hank Alderfer, Ginny Ades, Bud Simon, Bill and Sylvia Brockner. Edited by MALT Staff, Dan Pike
Documents: Meeting minutes, April 4, 1992; Articles of Incorporation, 1992; Bylaws, 1992; Annual Meeting Minutes, April 26, 1993
Mountain Area Land Trust newsletters – November 2000, Spring 2005, Fall 2006, Spring 2007
Mountain Area Land Trust brochures – various
Beaver Brook Watershed, Background, Property Summary and Proposal of Mountain Area Land Trust, DHM Design Corporation, June 8, 1998
Portraits of Preservation, Protected Lands and Ranches of Colorado’s Front Range, Mike Strunk, Sagebrush Photography, Inc., 2007