I’m one of the few people I know who was born in Fort Collins. True, I still run into old classmates at the local grocery, but the vast majority of my friends are transplants. I don’t blame them — what good taste they have! — but this place is particularly special because it holds all my memories, including those of 5-year-old Laura, trudging up the iconic “A” mountain to the west of town and looking down at the stadium and sprawling meadow below.
Hughes Stadium — former home to Colorado State’s football games and some good concerts — is now gone, and CSU’s stadium has since been built closer to campus. But the open space on which Hughes used to sit remains, and its future is uncertain. Nestled just below the first rise of foothills just west of Fort Collins, this space spreads out below the huge white “A” (which forever confuses visitors, but which stands for “Aggies”).
The CSU Board of Governors approved sale of the land to the City of Fort Collins a few years ago, and now the city has begun outreach efforts to determine its use. The city staff and/or hired consultant is scheduled to present focus group results to the city council at its March 14 work session, meaning that now is the time to send the city council comments.
I’ve done just that, and my comment is this: This is incredibly special and fragile land. The only way to keep it that way is to protect it. Protect it for current inhabitants, for the nonhuman creatures that call it home, for the future people who move here, and to honor the Indigenous peoples who had it stolen from them.
The meadow should be restored, the viewshed should be protected. We should stop the sprawl when and where we can, particularly in such a unique ecotone. Moreover, it should be saved for light recreational use, such as the sledding hill, the disc golf course, and the hiking nearby — and not the large-scale bike park advocated by some.
I can literally think of no other available open space more deserving of protection. That is why I support the efforts of those trying to protect Hughes in perpetuity, and who are advocating that the area be turned into a City Natural Area. Development there would be a tragedy — but so, too, would be a huge bike park, as proposed by Overland Mountain Bike Association.
The group advocating protection — PATHS — is not alone. Indeed, keeping this land as open space is exactly what Fort Collins residents say they want. In a citizen-driven ballot measure in 2021, nearly 70% of residents voted in favor of protecting this as open space.
Situated right below Horsetooth Reservoir, this area is home to wildlife that (lest we forget) don’t just like it, but depend upon it. Wildlife numbers are decreasing at an astonishing rate, and that’s primarily due to loss of habitat. Herons, deer, coyotes — they need this place too. Keeping land from being developed is one of the most obvious and just things we can do.
But humans like the area too — indeed, this land is adjacent to two of the most-used hiking trails in all of Fort Collins. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to have a parcel of land become available so near such excellent and well-loved trails, which indeed are in danger of being loved to death (just try to find a parking spot on weekends!). Now is the time to honor that unique opportunity — by preserving it.
Once it’s gone and developed, it’s gone and developed. This is a one-chance deal.
As a child, I roamed what used to be pastures just south of Prospect, east of this area. Bugs and birds and mud and flowers — that was the stuff of my childhood. Sadly, no kiddo growing up in that neighborhood now has access to what I did. But we can protect what little is left.
Those who live here know: This is a damn great place to live (not that anyone else should move here, ha!). The City of Fort Collins should be commended for all it has done; we have amazing trails and spaces and parks. But we have lost a good deal, too — just ask my memory bank. Let’s protect what we can, while we can.
Laura Pritchett writes a monthly column about loving Colorado and issues in the West. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. Her novels, including two forthcoming ones, are all set in contemporary Colorado. More at www.laurapritchett.com.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to email@example.com. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)
Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.