Driving south on Interstate 25, the mesa emerges like a hazy talisman. That’s Fisher’s Peak looming over Trinidad, the flats of piñon and juniper morphing into hills of pine and aspen, rising to those volcanic cliffs near 9,700 feet.

“I’ve had visions from many, many, many years ago. How can we have public access to this thing?” says Phil Rico, Trinidad’s mayor and native son. “And I’m not the only one. The residents who’ve been here all our lives, we’ve always felt like it belonged to us, yet we couldn’t access it.

“Now it has become reality.”

Cyclist with a view of Fisher's Peak Henry Monroe
Cyclists with a view of Fisher’s Peak. Photo Credit: Henry Monroe.

It will be reality after two to four years of planning. Thanks to a deal reached by multiple agencies, Fisher’s Peak and the surrounding Crazy French Ranch will be for the public. Thirty square miles of classic, Colorado beauty will become a recreation paradise, boldly representing Trinidad’s new destiny.

The town has a gritty heritage of farms, railroads, mines and oil — faded images of an economic portrait. Leaders are pleased by the recent boost from marijuana dispensaries. But they’re wary of that industry spreading far and wide, erasing the niche they’ve established.

“We need to develop something different,” Rico says.

So they’ve set a course aimed at outdoor recreation, the state industry reportedly worth $62 billion. Their proclamation? The dramatic backdrop they’ve identified with all along.

“What the Flatirons are to Boulder, Fisher’s Peak is to Trinidad, or what Pikes Peak is to the Springs,” says Jim Petterson, the Colorado director with the Trust for Public Land.

A senior planner with that organization sparked the conservation mission. He had come across a 2014 article in The New York Times mentioning the ranch owned by a French couple. Initially, Fisher’s Peak was listed with a larger tract of adjoining land, altogether the size being three times that of Manhattan, The Times reported.

“I think the price was over $80 million,” says Trinidad City Manager Greg Sund.

In 2017, Sund saw the price reduced for a smaller portion that included the mountain. He called the Trust for Public Land people, who called The Nature Conservancy people.

The two nonprofits are raising the rest of the $25 million cost after Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado combined to pony up an essential $14.5 million.

Thus Trinidad has what Juan DelaRoca calls its “game-changer.”

“With Fisher’s Peak, it really hits home,” the resident mountain biker says. “This is going to be a place that will turn around in a big way.”

He saw the potential when he drove into town in 2015. The longtime Coloradan had been living in Boulder, continuing his career in marketing. He was feeling “squeezed” and priced out.

So he went looking for something that felt more true to the state. What he found had promontories, plains, a running river — the ingredients of a fine mountain town but far more affordable.

“I never would’ve thought I’d end up in Trinidad,” DelaRoca says. “But this is part of the state that’s as good as any other. It’s just one of those areas that people have overlooked for a long time.”

So here he is, an emerging advocate for the open space all around. Last weekend, he hosted the Explore Las Animas Dirt Series, taking advantage of the gravel roads webbing one of the state’s larger counties in land mass, smallest in population.

With the parties responsible for acquiring Fisher’s Peak, DelaRoca took a helicopter ride over the mountain and has been dreaming big ever since.

“That ride from Crested Butte to Aspen?” he says, drawing one lofty comparison. “That’s the sort of ride you’ll be able to do here that you’ve never done before.”

That would be from Trinidad to Raton, N.M. Overseers expect Fisher’s Peak to become a convergence point for outdoor enthusiasts, with Santa Fe and Denver about the same distance away in either direction.

But first, a management plan. Parks and Wildlife has pledged to manage the property, leading some to wonder if Fisher’s Peak has a state park designation in its future.

Previously private, rugged land near Conifer became Staunton State Park in 2013 and could be “useful learning,” Petterson says. But the size pales in comparison with these 19,200 acres. Among Colorado’s state parks, only State Forest is bigger than that.

With Teller County’s Mueller State Park, land managers split a massive ranch into a wildlife area and park. At the Fisher’s Peak site, wildlife areas border the ranch, with Trinidad Lake State Park northwest of the mountain.

CPW isn’t talking specifics yet. “We’re very excited about the possibilities here,” said spokesman Bill Vogrin.

For now, ideas are being heard. Trinidad kids were recently asked to contribute theirs. They returned colored pictures depicting cyclists and equestrians, all with that iconic landmark in the background.

“They’re dreaming, too,” the mayor says.

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