Reflections on 40 Years (Part 2)

Historic photo of Don Burd

Part two of a four-part series

As department milestones are noted, such as the current 40th anniversary, it is always good to reflect on where we have been. The department started slowly, opening Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat to the public in 1975. Even with limited facilities, 300 people showed up that first day at Walden Ponds to enjoy trout fishing and bird watching. Over the next decade, several other parks opened including: Bald Mountain Scenic Area in 1976, Betasso Preserve in 1977, Legion Park in 1978, Flagg Park in 1979, Walker Ranch in 1979, and Rock Creek Farm in 1983. The department even leased additional properties to enhance recreational benefits for county residents in the late 1970s until the early 1990s which included Buckingham Park in Left Hand Canyon, Boulder Falls, 4th of July Campground, and the Barker Reservoir roadside pullouts that have restrooms.

The Plan for Parks and Open Space

The 1978 Boulder County Comprehensive Plan laid the foundation for the type of recreation that Boulder County Parks and Open Space would offer. The plan is based on the idea of providing passive recreational opportunities to interact with the natural environment (with limited development of facilities), no motorized use, and no organization or rules of play needed. Management plans for each property are then used to provide specific direction for where facilities will be provided for the public to access and enjoy county open space. This has generally equated to development of trailheads with parking and picnic facilities, and trails that provide access to the various resources offered by our open space that include the natural environment, historic buildings and structures, and agriculture.

From those first parks and trails, the number of our facilities has grown to accommodate the growing population and visitors to open space. Our facilities have evolved from wood-routed signs, square-shaped parking lots, and trails comprised of mostly old roads to sustainably-built trails with well-designed trailheads and signage. Staff has played a large role in development and maintenance of our facilities, as depicted in the picture to the right showing the construction of our first large picnic shelter at Walker Ranch in 1985.

The Recreation and Facilities Division provides the expertise and skilled employees that design, construct, and maintain a variety of recreation facilities. The division also maintains historic structures located on our properties and manages the Boulder County Fairgrounds.

Facilities in Place

Current department recreation-related facilities include 863 parking spaces, 21 restrooms, 20 kiosks, 15 picnic shelters, and over 116 miles of trails. A lot of effort goes into providing these facilities. We have over 35 full-time staff that is augmented with a large number of seasonal workers and volunteers. Daily activities for the division include restroom cleaning and trash pickup, building maintenance and construction, trail maintenance and construction, tree care, trailhead maintenance, mowing, facility design, and project management.

At first glance, providing facilities for passive recreation may seem like a very minimal proposition, but in fact these more rustic facilities demand a lot of effort. During my career, I have participated in building and maintaining these structures, and have learned that there is considerable value in doing it to a high standard so they hold up well to heavy use and Colorado’s ever changing weather. Next time you visit one of our open space properties, please take the time to appreciate the fine facilities there. Look at the trailhead and notice how its design blends into the surrounding landscape. Enjoy the picnic facilities, restrooms, and parking areas. Appreciate the craftsmanship of our trail construction and the rock work along them. Enjoy seeing some of the historic structures located near our trails.

Keeping Pace

As the Front Range population continues to grow, we assume that more and more people will be using our facilities to connect with open space. Nature is never static and we too will continue to adapt to the needs of our open space and visitors. When I started with the department 31 years ago, mountain bikes were just starting to come into existence, but it is now one way a significant number of visitors enjoy open space. Each of us may have a different way to connect with open space (hike, walk the dog, ride a horse, bike, fish, picnic, view wildlife, rock climbing, run, family gathering, etc.), but that means ultimately more people get to benefit from our open space and learn to value and treasure it.

Recreation-related Milestones

  • Anne U. White Trail opened in 1985
  • Rabbit Mountain opened in 1987
  • Walker Ranch Loop Trail completed in 1989
  • Lagerman Reservoir opened in 1990
  • Boulder Canyon Trail to Fourmile Road opened in 1993
  • Hall Ranch Bitterbrush, Nelson, Nighthawk, and Buttonrock trails construction occurred 1996 to 1998
  • Pella Crossing opened in 1996
  • The Agricultural Heritage Center at the Lohr/McIntosh Farm opened in 2000
  • Heil Valley Ranch’s Ponderosa Loop and Wapiti trails opened in 2001
  • Pella Crossing’s western side opened in 2004
  • Caribou Ranch opened in 2004
  • Mud Lake opened in 2005
  • Twin Lakes upgraded in 2007
  • Heil Valley Ranch’s Wild Turkey and Picture Rock trails opened in 2007 and 2008
  • Betasso Preserve’s Benjamin Loop Trail opened in 2011
  • Niwot trail system construction took place from 1986 to 2012
  • Coal Creek Trail completed to Erie in 2013



Note: This is the second in a four-part series about the department’s 40th anniversary.