JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — A large swath of land in Jefferson County is now officially protected to support wildlife and future outdoor recreation opportunities.
The Conservation Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) made the announcement on Tuesday morning that about 2,000 acres within the Mount Tom Conservation Corridor area is now protected.
The sale was recently finalized, and through it, CPW had acquired about 1,180 acres to enlarge the Ralston Creek SWA by 50% and JCOS acquired 740 acres, including the 9,741-foot summit of Mount Tom, which will become new county open space open to the public at a later time. Lastly, a conservation easement held by JCOS includes 400 acres, which will prevent development while the property remains privately owned ranchland.
The investment totals $25 million. Funding was thanks to JCOS and CPW, plus a grant from GOCO's new Centennial Program.
The groups have been working to protect about 2,000 acres of land in the Mount Tom Conservation Corridor area, which is northwest of Denver. It connects to other previously conserved landscapes — more than 20,000 acres — including the Ralston Creek SWA, the JCOS Douglas Mountain Study Area and White Ranch Park.
Throughout 2022 and into 2023, The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit focused on land conservation in the United States, purchased several private properties that were adjacent within the Mount Tom Conservation Corridor.
The conservation area and surrounding protected acres are home for plenty of iconic Colorado animals, including moose, elk, black bear and mountain lions. In addition, the top of Mount Tom is a ladybug breeding area. This effort also protects the headwaters of Van Bibber Creek, a critical watershed that ultimately flows to the South Platte River.
CPW noted that the previous landowners, the Baughman and Cappello families, held a strong commitment to conservation and land stewardship. They — along with the Mountain Area Land Trust, which holds a 400-acre conservation easement on Mount Tom's summit — were instrumental in this effort, CPW said.
Justin Spring, Colorado state director and southwest regional director at The Conservation Fund, explained that it is rare to secure landscape connectivity at this scale so close to a growing metro area.
"We and our partners knew that we would not get this chance again, and the dedication and investments made from CPW, JCOS and GOCO demonstrate just how critical these lands are for wildlife, people and our larger efforts to mitigate climate change impacts," Spring said. "The Conservation Fund is elated with the progress thus far and will continue to seek permanent conservation solutions for the remaining vulnerable land in this area."
Tom Hoby, director of Jefferson County Open Space, said the department is grateful to be a part of this conservation partnership.
"Without all of us working together, this impressive conservation effort and legacy would not be possible," Hoby said.
CPW Area Wildlife Manager Mark Lamb said CPW is looking forward to the benefits this expansion will bring.
"While this was one of the most complicated projects I’ve seen, the partners and landowners deserve credit for their dedication to our shared goal of conservation," Lamb said. "We appreciate the public’s patience while we make sure the property is up to CPW standards for wildlife and wildlife recreation, as that process may take significant time.”
GOCO Executive Director Jackie Miller echoed a similar sentiment, explaining that this effort was backed by a deep collaboration.
"We’re incredibly proud of the work that’s already been done to protect this important landscape and look forward to the long-lasting impact it will have for our state and future generations," Miller said.
While it is not yet open to the public, plans are in place for future outdoor recreation on a portion of the land now owned by CPW and JCOS. This will include a new trail to the summit of Mount Tom and expanded big game hunting opportunities on CPW’s Ralston Creek SWA expansion.
Over the next few years, the two groups will evaluate the ecological and recreational value of these sites. Because they have seen low levels of human disturbance, they will need to be thoroughly studied, CPW said.