Big Johnson Open Space (CO) Saved From Development

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO–The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, today completed the purchase of approximately 650 acres of threatened wildlife habitat in Colorado Springs from Cygnet Land, LLC, a land development company. Located adjacent to the Big Johnson Reservoir south of the Colorado Springs airport, the grasslands, which had been targeted for development, will be deeded to the city and become part of Colorado Springs open space system.

The purchase–which comes after a year of negotiations between Trust For Public Land the city and Cygnet–is a crucial part of a plan that will ultimately lead to the preservation of 3,000 acres on the south side of Colorado Springs for public recreation, wildlife habitat and scenic corridor purposes.

“The Big Johnson property is a real gem to add to the open space we are acquiring for the citizens of Colorado Springs,” said Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace. “It’s so beautiful out there, with such magnificent views of Pikes Peak and the Front Range.”

“We’re overjoyed to see this crucial parcel of prairie ecosystem protected,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado State Director of the Trust for Public Land. “This property was identified as a high priority for protection by the Colorado Springs Open Space Plan and as a high priority for conservation by the El Paso County Parks, Trails, and Open Space Master Plan. That vision has now become a reality thanks to the hard work, partnership and vision of the Colorado Springs City Council, city staff, and one of the most effective citizen advocate groups I know of – the Trails and Open Space Coalition. Finally, my hat is off to Cygnet Land and its principal owner, Greg Timm, who hung in there and gave us all an opportunity to complete this important conservation purchase.”

The Big Johnson area’s diverse vegetation, soils, topography and size make it extraordinarily rich for animal diversity. It is home to antelope, deer, fox, coyotes, skunks and rabbits and attracts such predators as eagles, falcons and hawks. The reservoir and the riparian areas on its north shore provide significant habitat for migrating shorebirds and other waterfowl and is one of only a few such areas south of Denver and north of Walsenburg that support migratory stopovers. Its prairie ecosystem is unmatched in the Colorado Springs area. The Colorado Division of Wildlife considers it an area of significant habitat and the Colorado Heritage Program regards it as an area of significant natural resources.

TPL’s purchase of this land and subsequent conveyance to the City of Colorado Springs caps a multi-year partnership with city officials and citizen advocates to bring this land into public ownership. The purchase also marks the beginning of a new era for the property, which for years had been used for cattle grazing and more recently had been proposed as the site of development of 2,400 homes. The property will be preserved in its natural state as open space and wildlife habitat that is accessible to the public by trails.

In simultaneous transactions, TPL purchased the Big Johnson property from Cygnet Land, LLC and then conveyed the property to the city of Colorado Springs, which used revenues from its Trails, Open Space, and Parks (TOPS) sales tax adopted by the voters in 1997 to complete the purchase. The total purchase price was $8.1 million. Since the revenue stream from the TOPS tax was insufficient to cover the total purchase price, city officials had been looking to TPL to finance the purchase over a three-year period. However, two weeks ago, city officials determined that it would be more advantageous to city taxpayers if the TOPS program borrowed from the city’s investment portfolio, using future revenues from the open space sales to secure the loan. Under the borrowing approach devised by city officials, the city’s investment portfolio will actually receive a higher rate of return than it would from more traditional investments, while the cost of borrowing to the TOPS program will be less than from other sources. The TOPS Working Committee, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Colorado Springs City Council supported this approach unanimously.

“That city staff was able to create a financing mechanism that both saves money and results in better return on our investments is icing on the cake,” Makepeace said.

Protection of the Big Johnson property is the initial step toward preserving more than 3,000 acres on the south side of Colorado Springs for public recreation, wildlife habitat, and scenic corridor purposes. Other parcels under consideration for protection include the airport open space to the north of Big Johnson, a 320-acre parcel to the east of the property owned by the Colorado State Land Board, and properties to the west and south of Big Johnson owned by the private Fountain Valley School. When completed, this landscape preservation effort will provide an open space buffer between the city of Colorado Springs and the towns of Fountain and Security, preserve dramatic views of Pikes Peak, and provide access for thousands of Colorado Springs-area residents to the Fountain Creek Regional Park via Cruse Gulch Trail.

“Preservation of this land will add another type of ecosystem to our inventory of open space,” said Terry Putman, manager of planning and TOPS for the Colorado Springs parks and recreation department. “This area has been a priority of the TOPS program for several years. The open space will provide hiking trails, nature study, and wildlife observation in an area of the city that is limited in open space opportunities.”

“We are so pleased that the Big Johnson property has finally been protected,” said Dan Cleveland, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. “It goes without saying that we are grateful to TPL, city council and city staff for following through on this vision for the citizens of Colorado Springs. But what should not be overlooked is the countless hours of effort put into this protection project by everyday people – volunteers from the Audubon Society, the Big Johnson Open Space Committee, and the community at large. This would not have happened were it not for their perseverance.”

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. In Colorado, TPL has helped to protect more than 55,000 acres of land. Working with private landowners, community groups and public agencies, TPL has successfully completed 74 transactions in the state, including the acquisition of Colorado Springs’ 320-acre Myron Stratton property in 1998. For more information, please visit our website at

Posted on October 4, 2000