Print Back to top
News Article

A gleaming gift to the great outdoors

Denver Water conveying stunningly scenic parcels to Forest Service as part of Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

It’s been getting crowded on the trails, open spaces and forests along the Front Range, especially since COVID-19 sent lock-down weary residents bursting into the backcountry in an eager search for safe, socially distanced outdoor recreation. 

That newfound enthusiasm for backcountry adventure isn’t expected to fade any time soon.

But now, thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water, explorers will have just a sliver of additional elbow room.

Image
A green evergreen tree stands at the edge of a mountain meadow.
Open meadows and mixed forest are common among the parcels Denver Water is conveying to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water is in the process of conveying 539 acres of wetlands, meadows and forests in Gilpin County to the Forest Service to be managed for public use. 

The remote acreage, near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel, protects ecologically precious lands near two wildly popular wilderness areas (Indian Peaks and James Peak) and the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. The land also complements a larger landscape protection effort in the region assembled by The Conservation Fund.

“Denver Water is thrilled to be a part of this landscape preservation effort,” said Jim Lochhead, the utility’s CEO/Manager. “This region near these precious wilderness areas is an environmental gem and one much loved by Coloradans, especially many within our service area. 

“Ensuring its permanent protection is an outcome we are proud to be a part of, and we appreciate our partnership with the Forest Service and the Conservation Fund in putting this all together,” he said.

Denver Water agreed to provide the land for its ecological value and public use as part of a sweeping agreement with the Forest Service to offset environmental impacts associated with the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the east of the area. 

It’s one of several steps Denver Water has already taken to complete so-called “mitigation” projects years ahead of the expansion work.

Image
A steep mountain slope cut by a ribbon of green, signaling a seasonal creek that carries water during the spring runoff.
Seasonal creeks like this one funnel spring runoff into established waterways and lend the landscape a lush character. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The lands being conveyed are part of what’s known as the Toll Property, the name derived from a ranching family that owned the land for 120 years.

Denver Water’s contribution, scattered across 11 parcels, is part of a much larger agreement, according to reporting in the Boulder Daily Camera. A much larger area of 3,334 acres remains in the Toll family’s private ownership, but with a perpetual conservation easement to prevent development. 

An additional 823 acres also were acquired by the Forest Service.

The entire land protection project creates a significant buffer, separating the adjacent James Peak Wilderness to the west from rural development and urban areas to the east, as described in a summary by The Conservation Fund.

Image
A green expanse of mountains with the snow-capped Continental Divide in the distance.
These parcels in the Mammoth Gulch area look southwest toward the Continental Divide. Photo credit: Denver Water.

It also helps protect a four-mile stretch of the upper portion of South Boulder Creek, a key part of Denver Water’s supply. 

The landscape is familiar not only to backpackers. Train aficionados know the area as part of the route taken by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, between Denver and San Francisco.