Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region are home to more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations, each working to make our community a better, healthier, and more vibrant place to live. With so many nonprofits, we often get asked how we differ from other like-minded organizations focused on environmental stewardship and conservation. The truth is, while all of us have different missions, values, and objectives, we are all ultimately working toward the same broad goal of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes. This may come in the form of engaging volunteers in hands-on stewardship projects, advocating for increased trail connectivity and access, adding new public open space to our parks system, or permanently protecting key open lands and the region’s important landscapes. With that in mind, today’s blog focuses on how the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) and Palmer Land Trust partner to protect and steward our region’s iconic natural landscapes.
RMFI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Colorado Springs. Its mission is to conserve and protect public lands in southern Colorado through volunteer-based trail and restoration projects, environmental education, and restoration research. RMFI’s restoration model centers on community involvement as a means of connecting people to the outdoors, promoting a healthy lifestyle, conserving public natural landscapes, developing the next generation of environmental leaders, and fostering an ethic of environmental responsibility and stewardship. RMFI accomplishes its mission by actively engaging thousands of community volunteers and youth conservation crews each year in hands-on stewardship projects, leading and coordinating environmental education courses and trainings, and completing research and monitoring activities to assess the effectiveness of various trail and restoration techniques implemented on the ground. At 34 years old, RMFI has established itself as a leader in completing high quality, technical trail and restoration projects that are community-based, impactful, and focused on enhancing the health and function of southern Colorado’s land and water resources.
Palmer is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Colorado Springs with the mission of guaranteeing that open lands, recreation, and working farms and ranches remain a part of southern Colorado’s identity forever. It works with both public and private landowners to permanently protect the beauty, identity, and rich natural landscape of our unique region. Since its grassroots beginning in 1977, it has permanently protected more than 100,000 acres of agricultural lands, inspiring panoramas and scenic corridors, and public recreation spaces in a 10-county region. It works at the landscape level to conserve land and water resources across property lines and political boundaries in collaboration with its landowner partners. Today, Palmer is one of the 15 largest land trusts in the country based upon conserved acreage easement holdings (there are approximately 1,700 land trusts in the United States) and is one of the country’s first 100 nationally-accredited land trusts.
So, what do an environmental stewardship organization and an accredited land trust have in common? How do the missions of the two organizations complement one another to support the broad goal of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes? Let’s take a look at Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
Red Rock Canyon is located on the western edge of Colorado Springs and is one of the most popular and beloved open spaces within the city. It has a rich and storied history including gypsum and Lyons sandstone mining in the 1800s and owners with visions of a resort community just a few decades ago. In 2003, the City of Colorado Springs purchased the property through the Trails, Open Space and Parks Program, better known as TOPS. As a component of the purchase, the City placed a conservation easement on the property with Palmer. The conservation easement guarantees the property will remain as undeveloped open land and allow public recreation forever. With the addition of Section 16 in 2010, Red Rock Canyon now encompasses 1,200 acres, all of which is protected in perpetuity.
As the property owner and land manager, the City of Colorado Springs is responsible for the maintenance and resource management of Red Rock Canyon. To help meet these responsibilities, the City relies on nonprofit partners like Friends of Red Rock Canyon and RMFI to assist with the ongoing stewardship of the open space. This includes trail maintenance, new trail construction, habitat restoration, and weed control to ensure the health of this public open space.
In the summer of 2015, RMFI worked with City staff and the friends group to repair damage to the park’s trail and drainage infrastructure that resulted from historic spring rainfall. Specific projects included trail maintenance and repair on the Quarry Pass Trail, restoration of Round Up Trail Creek, and stabilization of the Sand Canyon Pond breach site. Work will continue in 2016 to improve access trails to popular climbing areas within the park. All work objectives will protect the park’s natural resources while enhancing ecosystem health and function.
Each year, Palmer staff monitors all of its protected properties to ensure the conservation values are being safeguarded. The ongoing stewardship of preserved properties is one of Palmer’s top priorities, as effective stewardship ensures a property maintains its ecological integrity, sustainable recreation infrastructure, and strong conservation protection. Palmer partners with the City on large projects within the open space to ensure infrastructure improvements and ongoing maintenance does not degrade the conservation of the property.
By partnering, RMFI and Palmer, along with the City and friends groups, are ensuring our valuable community treasures like Red Rock Canyon remain accessible and healthy for generations to come.