Open Space celebrates 40 years

Glenn Wallace
Posted 12/4/12

Not many 40-year-olds can boast ownership of 53,000 acres of land, but Jefferson County Open Space can. A group of county residents banded together …

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Open Space celebrates 40 years


Not many 40-year-olds can boast ownership of 53,000 acres of land, but Jefferson County Open Space can.

A group of county residents banded together and formed PLAN Jeffco four decades ago. In 1972 voters approved a county ballot measure asking for a one-half percent sales tax for “planning for, developing necessary access to, acquiring, maintaining, administering and preserving open space real property or interests in real property, and developing paths and trails thereon for the use and benefit of the public.”

Since then, that sales tax revenue has helped establish 28 parks with 210 miles of trails across the county.

“We’re very known because we’re really the first foothills and mountain experience you can have going west,” Hoby said.

An accurate count of annual visitors to Jeffco Open Space land is tough to obtain because there are no gates, no admission charges and multiple entry points to most open-space properties.

A rough estimate provided a low-end figure of 2.1 million visits each year.

“But we have consultants saying to us that we could have up to 6 million visitor days a year,” Hoby said.

As popular as Jeffco Open Space may be today, both publicly and politically, it was not always that way.

“It was a small and very, very enthusiastic core of people who started this,” Margot Zallen, one of the founding members of PLAN Jeffco, said.

The 1972 ballot measure passed with a simple majority, but that was far from the end of PLAN Jeffco’s fight, Zallen said. She described a series of county-backed efforts in the 1970s and ’80s as “tussles” over whether the county was actually going to hold up its end of the bargain, and properly run and fund the voter-approved open-space plan.

“There’s been a lot more cooperation from everyone now. We haven’t had a political fight in years,” she said.

“We’ve had a very respectful relationship with developers and private land owners,” Hoby said, thanks to policies such as only seeking to buy land that is for sale, and seeking to pay a fair-market price.

The next 40 years of Open Space will look a lot like the first 40, according to both Hoby and Zallen.

Some $160 million in acquisition bonds taken out in 1998 still need to be repaid, while trails, parking lots and bathrooms at existing sites need to be built and maintained.

Hoby said the department is especially focused on “Heritage Conservation Areas,” including the banks and canyons of Coal Creek, Clear Creek, Bear Creek and Deer Creek. PLAN Jeffco recently took part in a joint Jeffco and Clear Creek County grant application, which resulted in the counties receiving $4.6 million to help build a multiuse trail through Clear Creek Canyon.

Zellen and Hoby said the possibilities for acquisition and park development in Jefferson County could easily fill up the next 40 years.

“If the county is willing to continue on that path, pun intended, than there’s a lot of opportunity,” Hoby said.

For more information about PLAN Jeffco, go online to to For more information about Jeffco Open Space parks or to volunteer, go to


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