Fishers Peak looks like an easy hike from downtown Trinidad.
The 9,633-foot peak sits just south of the city of 9,100 on Colorado's southern border. Getting there is a slog, though. It requires a 20-mile full-day trek starting in Sugarite State Park in New Mexico.
On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new state park that should give Trinidad residents much easier access to their iconic peak. If all goes according to plan, the park may also help the city shake its image as a sleepy former coal-mining town to become the state's newest outdoor mecca.
"These additional recreational opportunities in the Fishers Peak State Park area will be an important economic driver for the City of Trinidad and for Southern Colorado in general," said Polis.
The park, which has yet to be officially named, will cover 30-square miles of volcanic cliffs, streams, grasslands and wetlands. Because the area is adjacent to other wildlife areas, it will result in 55.5 miles of contiguous preserved land, providing habitat for elk, mule deer and black bears.
Once complete, the area will be Colorado's 42nd state park and its second-largest. Trails through the area will also create a much more direct connection between downtown Trinidad and Fishers Peak.
Plans for the park came together last December. That's when the Trust for Public Lands and The Nature Conservancy in Colorado announced they had reached a deal to purchase the 30-square mile Crazy French Ranch, which had been owned by a French couple since the 1980s.
The conservation groups provided the money needed to secure the $25.4 million sale. Great Outdoors Colorado, which is largely funded by the Colorado Lottery, put up another $7.5 million. Colorado Parks and Wildlife agreed to kick in another $7 million.
Jim Petterson, Colorado director for the Trust For Public Land, said the new park shows how the state, local governments and conservation groups can effectively work together to protect public lands.
"It's a rare opportunity when you have the chance to work with a small, rural city," he said. "One that has so much potential to benefit the local economy, create a shared sense of place and connect thousands of people every year to nature in one of the most spectacular corners of the state."
The announcement comes amid record visitation to Colorado's state parks. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, state parks saw over 15 million visitor days, up more than 3 million compared to five years earlier. The state hasn't added any significant state park acreage in that time.
The Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy now plan to begin to transfer the property to public ownership. The goal is to develop a "meaningful level" of public access no later than January 1, 2021. Polis added he'd like to see basic improvements to the property by the fall of 2020.
After a morning press conference in Denver, Polis left for Trinidad, where he plans to sign the official executive order to move forward with the park.
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