August 8, 2008

Conserve: States’ Trail Systems Will Match

By Michelle Dynes

Continued from A1

Plains Project on Thursday during the Western Planners Rendezvous at the Plains Hotel here.

The plan would create a 140,000-acre conservation zone, said Matt Ashby, Cheyenne's director of Urban Planning.

The zone extends 22 miles and stretches from native grasslands along Interstate 25 to the Laramie Foothills north of Fort Collins, Colo., and to the Roosevelt National Forest.

Conservation may not have been the original goal for the Belvoir, but alternative land uses offer cities a starting point for conservation programs, officials say.

The Wyoming/Colorado partnership also allows a conservation newcomer - Cheyenne - to learn from an experienced state as the two work together to develop a property that stretches across state boundaries.

"You might be able to one day hike, mountain bike or horseback ride to Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond," Ashby said.

The collaboration will ensure that trails in Colorado match the connecting paths in Wyoming.

It also will ensure that leash laws and rider restrictions are consistent throughout the property.

Colorado's project began in the 1980s when the Nature Conservancy identified the foothills as an area high in biological diversity.

The foothills run north of Fort Collins, Colo., to the Wyoming border, where they meet the Belvoir Ranch. Straddling the border there is what is known as the Big Hole, a canyon-like area of surprising scenic beauty.

Colorado voters in Larimer County approved a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for preservation of the foothills in 1996.

Voters approved the measure again in 1999, extending the tax collection through 2018, said K-Lynn Cameron from the Larimer County Open Lands Program.

The cash collection is split between the organization and eight municipalities. But about $4.5 million a year goes toward the protection of 40,000 acres.

It also paid for 35 miles of recreational trails and other improvements.

"We hear this a lot: 'If you are going to spend our tax dollars, we want access to the property,'" she said.

The organization also collects grants through groups such as Great Outdoors Colorado. Cash must go toward state improvements and cannot be used to build trails in Wyoming.

But the partnership provides leverage for grant applications, Ashby said. The collaboration also preserves sensitive ecosystems as well as creates recreational sites.

Before the public could access Colorado's portion of the property, a resource inventory identified crucial wildlife habitats.

For example, the trails steer clear of several gold eagle nests sites, said Meegan Flenniken from the Larimer County Open Lands Program.

These planning approaches also will help officials in Wyoming as they manage the state's section of open space, Ashby said.

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