Conservation groups are planning to buy a ranch near Trinidad that includes the landmark Fisher's Peak. The $25.5 million acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of February with a goal of eventually allowing public access to the land.
The purchase of Fisher's Peak Ranch, also known as Crazy French Ranch, was initiated by the city of Trinidad as a boost to its recreation economy. It's a move the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy say goes hand in hand with conservation. Both groups are involved in the acquisition, along with the Trinidad, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado.
Wade Shelton with the Trust for Public Land said the ranch's upcoming change to public ownership will be a positive thing for the area.
"Trinidad, for a long time, has been a community that at best was maybe a stopover on the way to Santa Fe, or a stopover for folks coming to New Mexico to go skiing, or go up to Denver or Colorado Springs," he explained.
The nearly 20,000 acres included in the project, along with the adjacent state wildlife areas that aren't currently accessible through Colorado, and Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico, will open up more than 55 square miles of contiguous protected land, according to Shelton.
"That's the kind of public resource that makes people want to go to Trinidad for vacation. It makes businesses want to move there, and it makes people want to move there too," he said.
Great Outdoors Colorado has contributed $7.5 million for purchasing the land, while Colorado Parks and Wildlife has recently pledged an additional $7 million. The conservation groups will launch a drive to raise the remaining $11 million needed to reach the full purchase price.
Shelton said making the land public is important because it aligns with the traits that make Colorado an attractive place to live, work or visit.
"It's our access to the natural world. It's the Rocky Mountains. It's having parks close to home," Shelton said. "But we're having a lot more people move here; we're having a lot more people wanting to come visit and while we've got a lot of public land, we don't have enough to accommodate what the public demands. We run the risk of seeing a lot of our great open spaces being loved to death."
Matt Moorhead with the with the Nature Conservancy said Fisher's Peak has important cultural and historical significance to the area. The ownership change will ensure that it is preserved.
"For anybody who's driven down I-25 from Colorado into New Mexico, from the moment you leave the city of Trinidad behind you start heading uphill towards Raton Pass. At that point, everything out the east side of your vehicle, from the road to the edge of the cliffs up high, everything you see is the property in question, is the Fisher's Peak Ranch," he explained.
According to the Nature Conservancy, the peak is one of the highest points in the U.S. east of Interstate 25, topping out at just under 9,700 feet.
Moorhead said that in working with the city of Trinidad, it was evident how pervasive the symbol of Fisher's Peak is in the community. In fact, the city’s logo is a silhouette of the landmark.
"When Trinidad came to us, one of the things that mattered to them was, ‘this is a symbol of home, this is a symbol of our community. Preserving this and taking care of this is emblematic of what we're trying to do with our own people, our own community here,'" he said.
The Crazy French Ranch has been under its current ownership for more than three decades. Moorhead said private ownership of the land had been in place since before the United States came to be. The parcel was part of the 1841 Maxwell Land Grant.
"This property has watched general Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army of the West marching from the Arkansas River down to Santa Fe during [the Mexican-American War]. This [land] looked out over the route of the Santa Fe Trail. This [land] observed some of the very first of the big Texas cattle drives up to Colorado and points north coming right through Raton Pass," Moorhead said.
The property changed hands over the years until, Moorhead said, the current owners decided that it was the right time, the right stage to "pass it down for somebody else to steward and take care of in the future.”
Moorhead estimates it will be at least two years until the property is open to the public for activities, which are likely to include hiking, biking, backpacking and horseback riding, among other things.
"The ranch embodies the amazing history of this area, we look forward to conserving that for future generations," said Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico in a press release. "We are also excited about the economic opportunities that public lands and recreation can bring to our community.”
Editor's note: Originally, The Nature Conservancy was cited in saying that Fisher's Peak is the highest point in the United States east of I-25. The Sandia Mountains, which form the eastern border of Albuqueuque, have peaks reaching 10,000 feet. The article has been corrected to reflect the accuracy of that statement.