Last month, during a tour with interested parties, The Nature Conservancy’s Matt Moorhead stopped by a ledge in the wilds above the Colorado-New Mexico border.
“It’s probably fairly obvious why we like stopping here,” he said.
It was obvious, with the hazy-blue Sangre de Cristos scraping the sky far beyond, the grasses and trees of the valley sprawling just below, rising to the cliffs of Trinidad’s icon: the flattop monolith that is Fishers Peak.
As everyone knows by now, this will be the centerpiece of Colorado’s 42nd state park. Now what everyone wants to know is when they will be able to explore the vast mosaic.
The ground, ranging in elevations near 6,000 to 9,600 feet, is home to a wide range of habitats, including a year-round elk herd.
“But if we put mountain biking trails through elk calving areas, that’s gonna change,” Trust for Public Land senior project manager Wade Shelton said during the tour, giving an example. “If we put a campground in the middle of a sensitive wetland, we’re gonna run into the same kind of problem. So it’s very critical that we use the ecological inventory to help guide where that public access is.”
It’ll be up to scientists to determine that. Along with the natural story, partners are piecing together the cultural heritage of the peak.
They’re learning about native tribes who roamed with buffalo nearby for thousands of years; about wars waged along the Santa Fe Trail; about major cattle drives; about notorious characters of the Wild West; about homesteaders and later migrants who fueled coal mines.
“I’ve often said so much of the American West is almost mythology,” Moorhead said. “Most folks don’t quite equate that with the southeast Colorado region, and yet so many of the historic events that really formed that mythology happened here. And this mountain watched it go by.”
Thanks to collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a deal was announced in January to buy Fishers and surrounding Crazy French Ranch.
In September, Gov. Jared Polis was in Trinidad to proclaim the next, yet-to-be-named state park. At 19,200 acres, it outsizes all but State Forest State Park.
Now Parks and Wildlife is scoping out potential consultants to launch a master plan. The proclamation called for “meaningful recreational opportunities on portions of the Property as soon as feasible, and ideally no later than January 1, 2021.”
Until then, we can only marvel at the pictures. Gazette photographer Jerilee Bennett tagged along for last month’s tour to give you a sneak peek.