Editor’s note, 10/30/20: A previous version of this story has been updated to reflect the partial opening of the park.
Outdoor enthusiasts, rejoice: Colorado’s 42nd state park officially opened Friday, October 30, with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) announcement of initial public access to 250 acres, three trails, and a picnic area at the property near Trinidad, dubbed by its prominent landmark, Fishers Peak. CPW purchased the property back in May, eight months after Governor Jared Polis had announced his goal of providing “a meaningful level of public access to the property” by 2021. The 19,200-acre ranch—just 7 miles north of the New Mexico border and across I-25 from Trinidad Lake State Park—boasts the 9,633-foot namesake peak, varied habitat, and native wildlife like elk, deer, mountain lions, and black bears.
“I’m thrilled to open Fishers Peak State Park. Together, our administration and the local community are enhancing and protecting the Colorado way of life by ensuring future generations will be able to explore and experience our natural wonders,” Governor Polis said in a news release Friday. “Outdoor recreation is an economic engine for Colorado and this park will help create good-paying rural jobs, protect our environment, preserve wildlife habitat, improve access to the outdoors and provide educational opportunities for children.”
The rest of the park is still closed until further notice, and Bill Vogrin, spokesperson for CPW’s Southeast region, noted back in May that it usually takes several years to get a park open. But the opening of the first trailhead marks the initial step in CPW’s phased approach toward opening the rest of the park up for camping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and more.
“It’s become more evident than ever that access to the outdoors is an important part of everyone’s physical and mental well-being,” Jim Petterson, the Trust for Public Land’s Colorado state director said in a May news release when the purchase was first announced. The purchase of the private property was made in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, as well as the City of Trinidad, the Nature Conservancy, and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)—with the latter fronting most of the bill ($17.25 million of the $25.4 million acquisition, to be exact).
Fishers Peak itself is an outcrop of ancient lava flows from Raton Mesa, and the land is largely undeveloped according to Vogrin, making for a unique experience. “You get a sense for what it was like when Native Americans were using it as a beacon, and pioneers were drawn to it, and the Santa Fe Trail was routed around it,” Vogrin says. “You’re stepping back in time in a big way there, and that’s very cool.”
Like most things at the moment, the project is also facing its fair share of financial uncertainty, with massive cuts to the state budget expected—and hesitation from lawmakers on the State Parks Improvement Appropriation bill—in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Governor Polis signed an executive order Friday to establish the Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative and hopefully ease at least some future logistical challenges by providing a “better local collaboration and leadership in creating and implementing this important state-wide vision for our outdoors.” But in the meantime, Vogrin says they’re still preparing the master plan for the park and beginning to tackle all of the logistics, including the biologists studying the land to get an idea of how to protect endangered species living in the area, like the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. CPW will also be taking public input throughout the planning process, which you can voice through their website.
“It’s beautiful,” Vogrin says. “And I’m excited for people to experience all the many faces of Fishers Peak.”
For the latest updates on the park’s progress and how to offer input, head to the park’s website