Preserved in the midst of growth
Land Trust’s origins saved Westside land
As construction vehicles shape the 43-unit Alta Mira subdivision off King and 19th streets, a 24-acre bowl of open space just
north of it lies untouched. And it's going to stay that way.
The space is the Mesa Wildlife Preserve, which was bought by a group of neighboring residents 26 years ago, then turned over to the Palmer Land Trust. Known at the time as the Palmer Foundation, the Westside-based non-profit has since become a major area force in open space, but back then it was just getting started, with the preserve one of the first three it helped save from development. (The other two were also on the Westside).
“The preserve is part of the history and heritage of the Palmer Land Trust,” said Dave VanDerWege, its executive director, in a recent interview. “It's part of how we got started. I think all the residents are happy it hasn't gone the way of the Indian Heights development (the former name for Alta Mira).”
The property itself “sort of creates a natural ecosystem there,” VanDerWege pointed out. “It's in its own enclave. There's a small group of deer that frequents the preserve, although the development (Alta Mira) will take away a corridor there.”
Bill Marshall no longer lives on the Westside, but he made his home off Mesa Road for about 15 years - looking down on the preserve - and was one of the leaders of the purchase effort. “There was a guy trying to buy that property,” he recalled. “We got a call from a friend in the real estate business, who said a man wanted to build townhouses down there.”
This sent an alarm to Marshall and others in the Mesa Road neighborhood, chiefly along Friendship Lane. “People felt that having a bunch of townhomes down there would be a real deterrent to the properties up there,” he said. “So we decided to buy it.”
Marshall took on the tough job of getting the donations. “I asked all the neighbors to contribute $1,000 or $2,000,” he said. “In all, we raised about $34,000.”
This was in keeping with the asking price by the late Al Hill, whose family is one of the Westside's largest individual property owners. Marshall praised Hill as a community-spirited individual who worked with the neighborhood on the purchase and “sold it for a very reasonable price.”
The Hill purchase was for 22 acres. Another two acres was donated shortly thereafter by Terry Golden, a local real-estate agent who became a foundation trustee. “Once he saw the neighbors had raised the money, there was a snowball effect,” remembered Bruce Warren, a Colorado Springs attorney who helped guide the foundation in its early days. “He could see the success, and he wanted to be part of it. And his property squared off the southern boundary of the wildlife area.”
The Palmer Foundation came into the picture as the entity working out the legal aspects of putting the acreage into a trust and then becoming its title-holder. The entity had formed in 1978, part of a City Parks plan to create a private fund-raising group. Although that plan “never took hold,” according to Warren, he and others saw possibilities for it in the then-new concept of saving open space through private land trusts.
Warren as president obtained tax-exempt status for the foundation. This made it a recognized charity that could accept donations, and allowed it to become title-holder for its three initial properties. The first (in about 1979) was a 7-acre parcel just north of Uintah Street and west of Mesa Road that was donated for open space in the will of Tish Rawles. Living adjacent to that property, Warren continues to be its informal steward, rounding up neighbors for occasional clean-up efforts.
The third parcel was the Blair Bridge property, north of 30th Street near William Palmer's Glen Eyrie complex. The land, whose feature is the historic stone bridge named after Palmer's gardener and early city park planner John Blair, was donated by Al Hill and his wife, Margaret. “He asked the Palmer Foundation to be the intermediary, and we then conveyed it to the City Parks Department,” Warren explained. A brass plaque on the bridge gives the date as June 1, 1980.
A commonality in all three of these Westside properties is that they are open to the public, though no vehicles are allowed. A visitor to the Mesa Wildlife Preserve can see various social trails worn in by schoolchildren or nature lovers.
“I mainly enjoy the view,” said Patti Margrave, whose family has lived off Mesa Road above the preserve for 23 years. “Seeing the wildlife is great, too - the fox, deer and hawks. I love little pockets of wilderness like this where kids can still go and climb trees.”
The entrance to the preserve is at its southwest corner, off Oswego Street. By agreement with the Palmer Land Trust, the preserve entrance will become part of an emergency access for Alta Mira, whose main street, Mountain Mahogany Drive (paralleling Oswego), dead ends at the preserve.
In exchange, the Alta Mira ownership is to develop a permanent trail through the preserve, along the Alta Mira boundary leading up to Mesa Road, and to improve the currently delapidated Oswego gate. “We've had a little bit of a problem with ATVs,” VanDerWege explained.
Looking back on the early days of the Palmer Land Trust, Warren said the “biggest obstacle” was figuring out how to make it work. The land-trust concept, with accompanying deed restrictions, “wasn't common 30 years ago,” he said. “The deed for the Mesa Preserve was the first I'd ever seen.”
Although no major legal loopholes have resulted from the preserve deed, Warren finds it interesting that it was “less detailed than nowadays.” It runs “two or three pages,” he said. Nowadays, because of various concerns about liabilities, a similar deed would be 30 or 40 pages, he said.
A point that VanDerWege raised is that quite often people living near open spaces around town often don't realize such land is privately owned and zoned for development. “Residents see open space all around them, then boom, it's gone,” he said. “They take it for granted.”
But not in the Mesa Wildlife Preserve.
Westside Pioneer article