December 27, 2021, Evergreen, CO – The Mountain Area Land Trust (MALT) is excited to announce the protection of the Douglas Mountain Ranch and Preserve, a 123-acre property located outside the Town of Empire in Clear Creek County. Through an acquisition, the property is now owned and managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) under its new name, the Pals Family State Wildlife Area. CPW will manage the property in conjunction with the adjacent Georgetown State Wildlife Area. MALT has facilitated every step of this project since its inception three years ago.
MALT began working on this project in 2018 when the local community rallied in opposition to a proposed gravel mine on the Douglas Mountain Ranch and Preserve property. The gravel mine would have had negative health impacts to both people and wildlife from daily truck traffic, noise and light pollution. As a result, MALT developed a relationship with the owners of the property and began investigating potential conservation options.
Working with the landowners in May 2020, MALT submitted a proposal for CPW to acquire the property under the state’s Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program. The CPW Commission approved partial acquisition funding and identified the project as a Tier 1 priority. Throughout 2021, MALT worked closely with CPW and the landowners, completing due diligence and navigating ongoing funding and real estate transaction issues.
In December 2021, the sale was completed with $200,000 contributed from Clear Creek County Open Space (CCCOS); $20,000 from Friends of Clear Creek; $500,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and $2,845,621 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. MALT played a critical role in bringing these partners together and facilitating this collaborative acquisition. Additionally, The Conservation Fund provided bridge financing to ensure that the project was completed before the end of 2021.
This conservation project provides immeasurable benefits to wildlife, residents and visitors of Clear Creek County. According to CPW wildlife tracking data, the area is home to the “Georgetown Herd” of Bighorn sheep, an “indigenous herd which has been present in the area for the span of recorded history.” The bighorn sheep corridor that crosses the property is vital to maintaining the genetic health of the herd, connecting the adjacent Georgetown State Wildlife Area to the Sheep Keep Open Space owned by Clear Creek County. In addition to the wildlife impacts, the project protects scenic viewsheds from the Town of Empire and US Highway 40, a heavily traveled corridor off Interstate 70.
Now that the Pals Family State Wildlife Area has been permanently protected, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has identified it as a priority location to install a wildlife overpass. The wildlife overpass, which is currently in preliminary design phase, will span across Highway 40 and represents an additional multi-million-dollar investment to protect the bighorn sheep, elk, deer, moose, and other wildlife of Clear Creek County.
This project would not have been possible without landowners that value wildlife and open spaces. The Pals Family shares, “The sale of our property to CPW has been quite a journey with many ups and downs. We are proud to know that we are honoring our grandparents’ love for Clear Creek County who have had a presence in the county for five generations. This transaction would not have been completed without the expertise of the MALT staff, whose guidance and leadership helped navigate us through a complex process. We are so appreciative of MALT’s passion for conservation.”
MALT’s local partners in Clear Creek County have been vital in completing this acquisition.
“Friends of Clear Creek is beyond thrilled for the land purchase of the Douglas Mountain Plateau by CPW for the sole purpose of wildlife habitat preservation,” said Friends of Clear Creek President Margi Kaspari. “The plateau is the only natural, accessible and undeveloped alluvial plateau in Clear Creek County, making it a key location for migrating bighorn sheep, wintering elk and nesting peregrine falcons. It is a unique geological feature, unspoiled by development. We are so excited that this incredible piece of land will be preserved for generations to come as a place where wildlife will continue to thrive.”
“The acquisition of the Douglas Mountain Ranch has been on the Clear Creek County Open Space Commission’s (OSC) radar for many years,” said OSC Chair Robert Judge. “We are pleased that this critical habitat of the resident bighorn sheep herd will now be saved from the threats of development and fragmentation.”
Thanks to the tireless efforts of MALT and its partners, the property is now a valuable conservation asset for Clear Creek County and the State of Colorado.