The idea of county open space was initiated in the mid-1960s by Boulder County residents who were interested in parks and recreation needs of the unincorporated area and in “preserving open space land in the face of rapid county development.” In 1967, the Board of County Commissioners appointed an official citizens group—the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee—to help formulate a plan for preserving open space. The Parks & Open Space department was created in 1975. Three years later, the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan was adopted and included goals and policies for preserving open space, protecting environmental resources (both natural and cultural), and developing a countywide trail system. The plan continues to guide the management of county open space today. The department currently protects and manages over 115,000 acres of agricultural land, wildlife habitat, riparian areas, and 124 miles of trails. Staff is heavily focused on stewarding the land and waters, and continuing to involve the public in processes that determine how the land should be used: building trails and facilities for the public to enjoy, managing noxious weeds and keeping land agriculturally productive, restoring wetlands and prairie ecosystems, monitoring wildlife and soil health, and providing public education programs and volunteer opportunities. In addition, the department administers a highly regarded Youth Corps program, operates the Boulder County Fairgrounds for community events, and provides the local home for CSU’s Boulder County Extension office.
Leading the Way to Exceptional Open Space
To conserve natural, cultural, and agricultural resources and provide public uses that reflect sound resource management and community values.
Open Space Funding
Open space acquisitions are funded from three primary sources: property tax (the general fund), county open space sales and use tax, and state lottery funds and grants.
Property tax funds, subject to annual appropriation by the Board of Commissioners, are currently budgeted for operations, maintenance, and trail construction. Until passage of the first open space Sales and Use tax in 1993, this source provided 90% of the total funds available for open space purchases.
Open Space Sales and Use Tax
The county open space sales and use tax is 0.475%, resulting from seven successful ballot initiatives dating from 1993 to 2016.
State Lottery Funds and Grants
The state distributes a portion of net lottery proceeds through the Conservation Trust Fund to local governments and recreation districts based on population for parks, open space, and wildlife habitat. Boulder County’s share is approximately $400,000 per year. The remainder of net lottery proceeds is distributed competitively through Great Outdoors Colorado grants. The department pursues grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and from a wide variety of federal sources, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Forest Legacy Program, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, and the Agricultural Land Easement Program. The Parks & Open Space Foundation also provides grants to the department.
Description of Divisions and Services
The department consists of approximately 143 full-time employees and 76 seasonal employees across nine divisions who are experts in their fields of acquiring and protecting land and water resources, supporting recreational use, protecting biodiversity, managing for sustainable agriculture, managing lands in the wildland urban interface for both fire preparedness and healthy forests, and improving soil health and carbon sequestration. Service areas include:
- Land preservation through acquisition of fee title and conservation easements, with 1,370 properties in the county’s current portfolio;
- Active agricultural program with 62 tenants operating through 128 leases;
- Protection of a water resources portfolio valued at more than $305M for agriculture, recreation, and environmental benefits;
- Design, construction, and maintenance of more than 124 miles of trails, 32 trailheads, 22 restrooms, and 15 shelters, for public use with nearly two million annual visits;
- Identification of more than 1,800 cultural resource sites, maintaining 365 historic buildings and structures, and operating three small local history-focused museums;
- Volunteer program with nearly 3,400 active volunteers donating 22,000 hours to steward open space lands;
- Over 15,500 museum visits and 250 education and outreach programs reaching 4,500 people annually;
- Habitat protection and restoration for more than 1,500 native plants and 750 native wildlife species;
- Colorado State University Extension education and research programs directly contacting approximately 22,000 clients and providing nearly 7,300 volunteer hours to 4-H, Master Gardeners, Horticulture and Small Acreage programs;
- Boulder County Fairgrounds, which hosts the annual county fair and other community events;
- Boulder County Youth Corps, which provides employment opportunities for approximately 100 county youth;
- Public information and engagement for all stakeholders regarding department policies and activities.
Parks & Open Space Capital Improvement and Stewardship Projects
The annual update of the department’s internal strategic plan helps the department prioritize capital improvement and stewardship projects and provides a structure for seeking partnerships and grant funds. The $1.5M Capital and Stewardship Projects budget comes from sales taxes and is allocated to agriculture, ecosystem restoration, forestry management, historic preservation, public education, building and maintaining trails and recreation facilities, and water management projects
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
• To preserve rural lands and buffers.
• To preserve and restore natural resources for the benefit of the environment and the public.
• To provide public outreach, partnerships, and volunteer opportunities to increase awareness and appreciation of Boulder County’s open space.
• To protect, restore, and interpret cultural resources for the education and enjoyment of current and future generations.
• To provide quality recreational experiences while protecting open space resources.
• To promote and provide for sustainable agriculture in Boulder County for the natural, cultural, and economic values it provides.
• To develop human resources potential, employ sustainable and sound business practices, and pursue technological advancements.
Looking ahead, the Boulder County Parks & Open Space department will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2025. The department’s 2025 Strategic Focus highlights four cross-cutting themes that affect our work. The four strategic lenses are:
- Cultural Responsiveness & Inclusion: The department provides welcoming, inclusive, and responsive opportunities for all members of the community with a focus on marginalized and underserved populations.
- Resilience: The department is in a position to respond to and minimize the impacts of environmental, social, and economic changes that affect our facilities, resources and programs, including climate change, natural events such as floods and fires, public health emergencies (e.g. pandemic), population growth and visitor uses, and social and economic shifts.
- Maintenance Backlog: The department has a plan to document, assess, track, and address the deferred and routine maintenance needs of our built environment (agricultural, recreational, and cultural facilities) and natural resources (grasslands, wetlands, riparian areas, forests, and other habitat).
- Safety: Department policies, procedures, and practices ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, and visitors.
Key Performance measures
Expenditures by Division
Online Version: Access the Parks & Open Space annual reports here (right click to open in a new window)