A Chronology of Conservation in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado
The Early Years, from 1912 to 1972
Saving Clear Creek Canyon has been going on for almost a century! In addition to the Conservancy, Jefferson County's nationally recognized Open Space Program and Denver Mountain Parks have made it a top priority. Nearly 10,000 acres (15 square miles) are already preserved in open space, in one of the truly great "public-private partnerships." This puts us “over half-way there,” with over 50% of the Mainstem Canyon ecosystem under preservation.
It all began back in 1912, when the City and County of Denver “looked to the hills” and acquired their first and largest mountain park – Genesee Park. Read on to learn more about the early years. Featured in photo is esteemed and beloved Dr. Robert J. Weimer (Bob), Professor Emeritus, Geology Department, Colorado School of Mines, president of Northwoodside. CCLC is deeply indebted to Bob for the contributions he has made in helping us understand the geology of this incredible canyon.
1912 – Genesee Park - The City & County of Denver acquires their first (and largest) mountain park, the majority in Clear Creek Canyon, running from I-70 down to the river between Genesee Park and El Rancho exits (1,400 acres).
1915 – Colorow Point Park - Denver acquires its smallest mountain park near the Nature Center (0.34 acres).
1917 – Buffalo Bill’s Grave (Lookout Mountain Park) – Denver acquires its 3d Mountain Park in the basin (66 acres).
1919 – Beaver Brook Trail – Colorado’s first “historic trail,” 8 miles long, is laid out along the Canyon’s south benches by pioneer Strode Ralston and the Colorado Mountain Club.
1956 – Jefferson County Nature Center – multimillionaire Charles Boettcher donates his lodge to the county (now 400 acres).
1967 – Northwoodside Inc. – nonprofit foundation created by Carla and Pat Coleman to preserve the wild lands along the south rim of Clear Creek Canyon
1971 – Plan Jeffco – citizen’s organization founded to promote good government and land preservation in Jefferson County
1972 – Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) Program – Plan Jeffco’s campaign results in a vote of county residents to create one of the nation’s first local government open space preservation agencies, funded by a ½% county sales tax.
Gaining Grounds, The first 10 years (1986-1995)
In 1986, the Clear Creek Land Conservancy was founded and received its first gift of open space from founder Carla Coleman – the Northwoodside Easement, protecting over a mile of the Beaver Brook Trail just west of the Nature Center. The Conservancy holds a “conservation easement” (the development rights) in trust, and the Northwoodside Foundation owns the title to the land. Rather than build on their beautiful home site next to the Beaver Brook Trail, a Wheatridge couple donated Lost Park Woods to the Conservancy in 1989. Here’s a recap of how we’ve been steadily gaining ground….
1986 – Clear Creek Land Conservancy (CCLC) – inspired by Carla Coleman and organized by residents on both sides of the Canyon.
1986 – Northwoodside Conservation Easement – CCLC founder Carla Coleman donates the first conservation easement to the Conservancy, permanently preserving an open space area protecting over a mile of the Beaver Brook Trail, just west of the Jeffco Nature Center (240 acres).
1988 – Goltra Quarry – Chicago millionaire O. R. (Ren) Goltra plans huge gravel surface mine on 1,800 acres on the north face of the Canyon near Guy Gulch. Huge citizen campaign to save the Canyon results in Jefferson County Commissioners’ denial of the quarry in 1991.
1989 – Lost Park Woods – a Lakewood couple donate their retirement lot to CCLC, running north from Cody Park to the Beaver Brook Trail (10 acres).
1994 – CCLC Master Plan – the Conservancy finances a 2-year-long citizen-government planning effort, resulting in a master plan for preservation of the Canyon which is adopted by the Jefferson County Commissioners.
1994 – Mount Zion Park – JCOS purchases open space land north of the Nature Center on the Lariat Loop Road (372 acres).
1995 – Recreation & Public Purposes Act Lands – the U.S. Government awards CCLC lease rights to 2 U.S. Bureau of Land Management properties near Tunnel 3, which the Conservancy later transfers to JCOS for permanent ownership (240 acres).
1995 – Brannan/Sand & Gravel Lands – JCOS acquires the company’s mining lands, a portion lying in the Canyon mouth outside Golden (100 acres).
1995 – Mountain Ridge Trust Lands – O.R. Goltra sells six parcels in the inner gorge and northside benches to JCOS (776 acres).
Gaining Grounds, The Second 10 Years (1996-2005)
In 1996-97, JCOS purchased eight Mouth of the Canyon properties on the river in Golden, the Crystal Cave from O.R. Goltra, plus a U.S. Bureau of Land Management parcel on the county line and signed an option for the fabulous Bear Creek Development Corp. lands over six creek side miles of the inner gorge through the conservations efforts of Golden Attorney Leo Bradley.
Clear Creek Land Conservancy has been busy saving land through creative partnerships with government, local communities, and land owners. In a 1996 “mega-deal,” we negotiated both the purchase of the Dieker Ranch – with JCOS acquiring the title and the Conservancy acquiring a conservation easement – and the donation of the Mount Vernon Metropolitan District Conservation Easement to the Conservancy on adjoining Custer Wash, protecting another ¾ mile of the Beaver Brook Trail.
In 1998, we received the donation of a conservation easement on magnificent Rilliet Park Community open space lands. This was followed in 2000 by the donation of an adjoining easement from the Northwoodside Foundation on northwest Lookout Mountain and the Conservancy’s purchase of the Black Property, a private inholding in Denver Mountain Park’s Genesee Park that allowed the Chavez Trail to be reopened!
To top this off, in 1999, Clear Creek County voters approved the creation of the Clear Creek County Open Space Commission, with expert input from the Conservancy. So, now we have a new partner in saving Clear Creek Basin natural areas! Here’s a recap of how we gained ground in the second 10 years…
1996 – Dieker Ranch “4-Way-Mega-Deal” – CCLC negotiates with JCOS and the Mount Vernon Country Club Metropolitan District to preserve over 1,000 acres including:
- purchase of the Dieker Ranch northwest of Mount Vernon by JCOS and CCLC with title going to JCOS and a conservation easement to CCLC (177 acres),
- matched by Mount Vernon’s donation of a conservation easement to CCLC preserving the north end of its Custer Wash open space, protecting another ¾ miles of the Beaver Brook Trail (160 acres),
- coupled with an agreement that, if JCOS can acquire the Norman Ralston property immediately north of the Clubhouse by 2006 (360 acres), then
- Mount Vernon will donate another conservation easement preserving its Custer Ranch half-section north of the Ralston property (320 acres).
1996-97 – Mouth of the Canyon Properties – JCOS buys eight properties where the river enters Golden (69.56 acres).
1996-97 – The Crystal Cave – preserved by JCOS’s purchase from O.R. Goltra (80 acres).
1996-97 – U.S. Bureau of Land Management Land – JCOS acquires an unused parcel of land on the county line from the federal government (43.95 acres).
1998 – Rilliet Park– the Rilliet Park Association donates a conservation easement to the Conservancy covering all of their undeveloped lands (273.5 acres).
1998 – “S.O.S. Bond Issue” – Jefferson County voters overwhelmingly approve a $160,000,000 bond issue for JCOS to buy open space.
1999 – Centennial Cone Park– largest-ever JCOS acquisition saves over 5 sq. mi. of the north side including Centennial Cone, Elk Creek, and Indian Gulch in purchase from O.R. Goltra (3,329 acres).
1999 – Bear Creek Development Corp. Lands – JCOS completes deal with Golden Attorney Leo Bradley acquiring over 6 miles of Clear Creek (1,500 acres).
1999 – ACX Corp. Property – through his firm, Joe Coors Jr. donates a conservation easement in the canyon mouth next to its subdivision on Route 93 (73 acres).
2000 – Northwoodside Lands – Northwoodside Inc. donates a conservation easement to the Conservancy covering its lands on Lookout Mountain adjoining Rilliet Park (40 acres).
2000 – Chavez Trail Land – CCLC buys the Black Property, a private in-holding on the west side of Genesee Park that allows the historic Chavez Trail to be reopened (10 acres).
2000 – Clear Creek County Open Space Commission – created as a county agency by the Clear Creek County Commissioners; CCLC and other organizations helped in the planning.
2002 – Jefferson County Open Space Plan – Jefferson County Commissioners adopt a far-sighted Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan emphasizing Clear Creek Canyon preservation.
2003 – Elmgreen Homestead – open space property on both sides of the Clear Creek and Jefferson County lines running from I-70 down into the canyon, preserved by Clear Creek County and JCOS in cooperation with national and local land trusts, with CCLC drafting the conservation easement (437.5 acres).
2004 – Ken Paul No. 1 – professional photographer Ken Paul donates CCLC’s first conservation easement on the north side of the Canyon, off Robinson Hill Road near the Gilpin County line (29.19 acres).
2005 – Norman Ralston Ranch Property – Northwoodside Inc. fulfills a 40+ year vision of preserving the Ralston property immediately north of the Mount Vernon Country Club, with the Ralston Trust first donating a conservation easement covering the property to CCLC, followed by Northwoodside’s purchase of the fee property (360 acres).
2005 – Ken Paul No. 2 – Ken Paul donates a conservation easement to CCLC preserving another portion of his property, the Conservancy’s first with provision for a future residence (37.93 acres).
Gaining Grounds, Recent history (2006 – 2009)
More 21st Century top priorities include the Mount Vernon Custer Ranch half-section immediately north of that; the slopes of the former Presbyterian Camp/Visser property (north of the I-70 El Rancho exit); and the balance of Guy Gulch, the “canyon in the Canyon). And we’re very excited to add the Oxbow parcel to our recently gained ground!
2006 – Estella Leopold’s Shack West – internationally known ecologist and paleobotanist Dr. Estella Leopold, daughter of pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold, gives CCLC a conservation easement on her wilderness property and historic pioneer cabin in Gilpin County, south of Robinson Hill Road, the Conservancy’s first in Gilpin County (260 acres).
2007 – Mount Vernon Custer Ranch Property – the residents of the Mount Vernon Country Club Metropolitan District voted overwhelmingly to donate a conservation easement to CCLC preserving Mount Vernon’s north half of Section 1 (former Custer Ranch property) to match the preservation of the Ralston property in the south half of Section 1 immediately north of the clubhouse; the conservation easement should be finalized in 2007 (320 acres).
2008 – CCLC-Northwoodside Merger – Clear Creek Land Conservancy’s future is transformed when the Board of Directors of Northwoodside Inc. – the foundation created by Carla Coleman in 1967 to preserve a primitive area around the Beaver Brook Trail – declares “Mission Accomplished,” dissolves, and donates all of its assets to CCLC. CCLC becomes the owner of 645 preserved acres on the southeast side of the canyon (with our conservation easements preserving them), a caretaker’s house, a caretaker, and substantial resources.
2008 – Northwoodside Lots – As part of the Northwoodside asset transfer (above), the foundation also gives a conservation easement to CCLC preserving 4 recently acquired lots in Rilliet Park, abutting CCLC’s Rilliet Park conservation easement and totally 4 acres.
2008 – The Clear Creek County Greenway – CCLC is honored to be asked by the Clear Creek County Open Space Commission to “partner” with it in preserving its visionary greenway along the river from the Jeffco line west all the way across the County to the Eisenhower Tunnel headwaters. The County plans to acquire riverside property and interests in property to provide a green corridor for hikers, bikers, fishing, and other non-motorized activities. CCLC will hold conservation easements on the greenway properties to preserve them.
2009 – The Oxbow Property – Clear Creek County and CCLC acquire the “first step” of the Greenway, a beautiful 74.42-acre “hidden” jewel on an oxbow bend in the river just over the line from Jefferson County. The County buys it for just over $1,000,000 and donates a conservation easement on it to CCLC. The Greenway march has begun.