Apr 192010
Authors: Seth Anthony

When I was choosing graduate schools, several considerations aligned to make Fort Collins and CSU my top choice.

First and foremost was the research program at CSU, but the decision was made much easier by Fort Collins’ outdoor-friendly way of life and proximity to nature, which the recent arrival of spring has allowed me to take full advantage of. 

Soon, everyone will be hiking and climbing to the top of Horsetooth Mountain, tubing the Poudre river and venturing through Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are a few less well-known outdoor adventures near Fort Collins that you should try this year:

1. Arthur’s Rock. Look directly down Prospect Road to the west, and you’ll see an unassuming granite outcropping. Go around Horsetooth Reservoir from the north side, and you’ll enter Lory State Park, from which you can hike to the top. Arthur’s Rock is an easier and prettier hike than the climb up Horsetooth, and the views in all directions are just as remarkable.

2. Pawnee Buttes. A little over an hour drive west of Fort Collins, two massive outcroppings arise from the Colorado Plains. Part of the Pawnee National Grasslands, these unexpected monuments are not only nesting sites for birds, but also offer some of the most unexpectedly beautiful hiking trails on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.

3. Red Mountain Open Space. In 2004, Larimer County and the City of Fort Collins teamed up to purchase tens of thousands of acres on the Wyoming border that now became the City’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and the County’s Red Mountain Open Space. Drive straight north on College Avenue, and you’ll eventually see signs for these two spaces. Both spaces offer fantastic off-road biking and hiking on dozens of miles of trails, but Red Mountain’s colorful canyons and hills take the cake.

I love these spaces –– I’m out at these and other natural areas almost every chance I can get, but, before I start sounding like an advertisement, it’s valid to point out that our local, state and national governments have spent millions of dollars to acquire and maintain these open lands and to ask if this cost is worth the benefit.

While I certainly get my benefit out of these places, I totally understand why a taxpayer would balk at the City of Fort Collins buying tens of thousands of acres on the Wyoming border. Yet, if not the government, who else has the resources and incentive to preserve these spaces? 

Under our current tax system, in order to hold and maintain property, an owner has to pay property taxes. But for large pieces of scenic land in valuable locations, this means that you have to do something with land to make money to pay those taxes –– whether that’s farm it, ranch it or subdivide it. 

Each of those uses is, to varying degrees, incompatible with making it open and available for the public to enjoy, unless you can manage to sell it to the government or are willing to donate away part of its value in a conservation easement.

And governments, even those like Fort Collins and Larimer County, who have dedicated sales taxes for that purpose, can only afford so much open space. Who knows how much more land might have been preserved over the decades if it wasn’t for pressure from taxes to sell and subdivide?  

So on the one hand, our government creates incentives to use up natural areas, and on the other, it spends millions to preserve some of them. It certainly seems like we could skip a step or two and make it much easier to keep privately-held open lands open, multiplying the power of groups like the Nature Conservancy to preserve valuable spaces.

Until that happens, go out and enjoy our protected parks, forests, grasslands and other open spaces. You’re paying for them, after all.
Seth Anthony is Ph.D. student in chemistry, president of the Graduate Student Council, ASCSU Liason for Graduate and Professional Affairs and is in the Collegian most Tuesdays. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com._

 Posted by at 4:25 pm

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