It could have been the worst-case scenario for Rocky Mountain National Park: a “Land for Sale” sign going up in one of the most popular areas of the Park. But that was exactly the situation the Park would have been confronted with if not for a quick response from Rocky Mountain Conservancy, The Wilderness Land Trust, National Park Trust, and the support of local funders. A 12.5-acre property was about to be listed for sale for only the second time in the last seventy years. With a 2,000 square foot house perched on a rocky overlook and easy motorized access, the demand for this private property within Wild Basin would have been great.
For the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, based in Estes Park, saving this property had been a high priority for a number of years, and they initially found a generous conservation buyer to purchase and hold the property in 2009 when it originally came up for sale. That buyer, however, wanted to sell the property this year to ensure that it would go to the Park. “We knew right away that we had to step in quickly with what land protection reserves we had,” Charles Money, Executive Director of the Conservancy said. “The last time it was on the market, there was immediate interest from many possible buyers.”
The property is the largest privately-held, developed parcel located in the Wild Basin area of the Park. The property is only about a mile from the Wild Basin Entrance Station located just north of Allenspark, Colorado. Longs Peak and Mount Meeker tower over the property and the parcel offers spectacular views of the Continental Divide to the west. Camper Creek cascades through the property and numerous springs wind around large boulders, providing water sources for wildlife. The two-story structure is visible from many points in Wild Basin, including a picnic area on the North St. Vrain River, which flows through a corner of the property below the house.
The parcel and land along the access drive are within the wilderness boundary, but not currently managed as wilderness because it’s privately owned. In order for the area to be managed as designated wilderness (the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands), the partners must remove the house and access drive. The planned deconstruction process would recycle as much of the building materials as possible.
The addition of the parcel to the Park and removal of the house and access drive will enable the Park to administratively add 33 acres to designated wilderness. “This helps fulfill the purpose of the Wild Basin area – it provides a rare, accessible wilderness experience to Park visitors,” points out Reid Haughey, President of The Wilderness Land Trust. “When the Rocky Mountain Conservancy called asking for help, we jumped at the opportunity to preserve the quiet recreation and wildlife habitat of Wild Basin–which is otherwise managed as designated wilderness surrounding a trailhead access road. Ironically, every funder and board member I showed the property to immediately wanted the site for themselves, but knew it was more valuable as an asset for all. That shows how spectacular this location is.”
Raising the necessary funds for the purchase and deconstruction was very challenging. That is where the National Park Trust and the largest local funder joined the partnership to complete the deal, “Our funding partner, The Barrett Family Foundation, has a special connection to Rocky Mountain National Park and they were delighted to help with this important project during the National Park Service Centennial. The opportunity to purchase and protect threatened private property made it a perfect fit for the foundation,” said Grace Lee, Executive Director of the National Park Trust.
Charles Money was also thankful, “It took all of our organizations to pull this off, but we are glad this property can now finally be transferred to Rocky Mountain National Park where it belongs.”
Darla Sidles, Superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park said, “We are extremely grateful to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, The Wilderness Land Trust and National Park Trust in acquiring this private piece of land inside the park. This is a gift that will live on forever as protected wilderness.”