Colorado Open Lands

Preserving the South Park Basin

Designated a Colorado Heritage Area in 1997, South Park represents one of the most unique and highly valued collections of natural, cultural, and recreational resources in Colorado, all set in a striking scenic and open landscape.

South Park is a 1,000-square mile grassland basin in the geographic center of Colorado that contains over 200 miles of stream and riparian habitat and a globally rare grassland community.  Colorado Open Lands has protected a total of 27,488 acres, including nearly 30 miles of riparian stream corridor, through 49 projects to date in this landscape of state and national significance.

Click here to read the latest article on the South Park Legacy Program

Significance

The collection of natural, cultural, recreational and scenic resources in South Park holds statewide and national significance.  In 1936, Colorado’s Governor proposed that the South Park Basin become the nation’s largest wildlife refuge, to “preserve one of Colorado’s natural beauty hotspots, provide a sanctuary for all types of native game, and furnish a playground for the entire United States.”  His vision did not materialize, but today the Basin maintains many of the characteristics it did then, including:

  • A rural, open, and scenic character, supported by agricultural land-use,
  • Large seasonal migrations and high concentrations of game and non-game wildlife,
    Globally rare wetland complexes that serve as habitat to plants rarely found south of the arctic,
  • More than 35 potential conservation areas (sites contributing significantly to regional and global biodiversity) identified by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program,
  • Habitat for an estimated 15-20% of the known breeding population of the globally imperiled mountain plover,
  • A rich cultural heritage—19 sites listed in the State and/or National Register of Historic Places, and
  • The Headwaters of the South Platte River—a majority of tourism revenues in Park County are from recreation along the South Platte and its tributaries, and the South Platte provides drinking water for roughly 75% of Colorado’s population.

Threats and Impacts

Today, South Park is at a crossroads.  Surface water resource development for municipal uses has been taking place for nearly a century.  Recent groundwater development proposals foretell the future.  The area’s proximity to Denver, Colorado Springs, and Summit County makes South Park attractive to both commuters and people looking for a second home in the country.

Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Park County increased by over 100%.  Virtually unknown just a decade ago, South Park's character and heritage resources are now being altered at an increasing rate.  Significant impacts of these threats include:

  • Loss of valued open spaces,
  • Continued conversion of agricultural lands and water to other uses,
  • Long-term impacts to groundwater dependent wetland and riparian communities,
  • Permanent fragmentation and degradation of wildlife habitat, and
  • Loss of access to recreational opportunities.

Preservation of these assets is essential to the long-term economic sustainability of the South Park community.

What Colorado Open Lands is Doing

The South Park Heritage Area partnership has developed a vision of the future of the Basin.  The heart of this vision is to “conserve and enhance significant natural, cultural, visual, and recreational resources while developing a sustainable economy that preserves historic economies and provides for resource- based tourism and managed growth”.

A primary goal of the partnership is targeted, voluntary land conservation.  As a result of the combined efforts of Colorado Open Lands and our partners, nearly 17,000 acres have been protected in South Park to date.

Momentum to protect and restore the most outstanding natural and cultural resources in South Park is very high.  Currently, Colorado Open Lands is assisting Park County in implementing a recent $3.5 million Legacy Grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to further the objectives of the South Park Heritage Area plan.  In Park County, conservation projects are carefully selected to:

  • Minimize development in and around significant conservation areas through land acquisition, conservation easements, and management agreements,
  • Ensure adequate water to maintain conservation and agricultural values through instream flow and groundwater protection,
  • Coordinate with local, state, and federal government agencies to leverage conservation efforts and influence planning, management and disposition of public lands to address priority conservation values, and
  • Raise awareness among landowners and general public about the importance of protecting conservation values in South Park.

Partners

Our financial and project partners in protecting the South Park Basin include:

Links to Recently Published Articles

Colorado Open Lands Fourmile Creek Restoration Project
South Park Ranch Recreation Program

How You Can Help

Your support is critical to our ongoing success in helping willing Colorado landowners preserve and protect the great natural, cultural, and working landscapes of Colorado.  You can help support this project and Colorado Open Lands’ ongoing efforts by:

  • Making an online donation
  • Sending your donation to:
    • Colorado Open Lands
      274 Union Boulevard, Suite 320
      Lakewood, CO 80228
      303.988.2373
  • Funding or donating items listed on our Wish List!  To accomplish our mission of land preservation, it is necessary to have the right tools.  By donating either the item or the money necessary to purchase any of the items, you help ensure our ongoing effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Consider putting a conservation easement on your land.

Project Descriptions

Colorado Open Lands has protected a total of 19,125 acres, including nearly 30 miles of riparian stream corridor, through 34 projects to date in this landscape of state and national significance.

Click here to view completed projects list.

Ninety-nine percent of our revenue goes directly to our land conservation programs.