Over 12,000 Acres Protected in Arapahoe County (CO)

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, CO, 3/19/2008– On any given day, you can see the splendor of Middle Bijou Creek Ranch in eastern Arapahoe County. The Swainson’s hawk soars above. The leopard frog nests along the creek and antelope graze its grasslands.

In February 2008, Arapahoe County — with help from the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust — took steps to preserving their habitat and the sweeping vistas and views, when Arapahoe County Commissioners approved the purchase of a conservation easement on the Middle Bijou Creek Ranch, a 12,578-acre multi-generational working farm and ranch straddling the Arapahoe County and Elbert County border.

“What a jewel, what a wonderful piece of land,” said Commissioner Susan Beckman, who serves as Board Chair. “When you see something that has been nurtured you realize how important it is to protect it forever. With this purchase, Arapahoe County residents and visitors will be able to enjoy its beauty forever. Congratulations to all those who helped make it happen, especially the citizens of Arapahoe County who approved the Open Space sales tax in 2003.”

Middle Bijou Creek Ranch, located just south of Deer Trail and 40 miles east of Denver, occupies an important role in a growing network of public and privately conserved agricultural and wildlife properties that serves to protect the western heritage of Arapahoe and Elbert counties.Encompassing more than 20 square miles of land, the easement is the largest ever in Arapahoe or Elbert County, protects four distinct stream systems, 93 native plant species, and breeding habitat for the western burrowing owl, a state threatened species. It will also allow the property owner to continue working the land.

“The Trust for Public Land is overjoyed to help the landowners stay in farming and ranching,” said Justin Spring, TPL Project Manager. “This will allow them to continue their excellent stewardship of the land. Moreover, as development continues to march eastward along the I-70 corridor, it’s imperative to protect large intact working farms and ranches like Middle Bijou.”

“This project competed well in the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) process because of the strong partnership that has come together to achieve it, because it is a unique opportunity to protect a very large area of shortgrass prairie habitat, and because it can serve as a catalyst for additional land protection in the area,” said John Swartout, GOCO Executive Director. “The GOCO/Lottery grant awarded to this project is a good investment of public dollars.”

“The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is proud to partner with the Trust for Public Land, Arapahoe County, and Great Outdoors Colorado to fund the Middle Bijou Creek Ranch conservation easement,” said Colorado NRCS Easements Coordinator Gary Finstad. “This project, at 12,578 acres, is the largest conservation easement ever funded nationally in the history of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. As the principal federal source of technical and financial assistance to private landowners for natural resource conservation, the USDA NRCS has provided nearly $200,000,000 over the past five years in competitive financial assistance on Colorado’s working ag lands through the various conservation programs authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill.”

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) holds the conservation easement.

“This is what conservation should look like,” said Chris West, Executive Director of the CCALT, “ranchers partnering with county government and land conservation groups to ensure a future for agriculture, wildlife habitat and scenic views. Conservation easements like the Middle Bijou Creek Ranch are exactly the type of properties that the legislature intended to support through the tax credit program.”

“Arapahoe County demonstrated strong leadership in making this significant investment,” added TPL’s Spring. And so many people were willing to come forward and help us save this amazing place. When you realize how many funding sources there are on this project, it’s a great display of how people coming together from various groups can make it happen.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL’s has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 45 states. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information, visit www.tpl.org.