Boulder's vaunted Open Space and Mountain Parks program is at a critical juncture, following decades of very deliberate, citizen-funded expansion.

The open space system is now built out almost as much as it possibly can be, with few remaining parcels identified as potential purchase sites for the city.

In fact, the last 10 years saw just 18 open space acquisitions in Boulder, while the four decades previous saw, respectively, 112, 112, 100 and 68.

A comprehensive master planning process is now underway, as the OSMP department ponders its future with the input of citizens.

The fruits of that process remain to be seen, though it seems highly likely that, at a minimum, the system's future will involve much less acquisition and much more maintenance of existing and increasingly trafficked open space properties.

Recently, just a few weeks after kicking off the master plan, the city released a lengthy report that amounts to a snapshot of the resources within and current conditions of the OSMP system. It will be used to inform ongoing discussion about the system's future, the city has said.


These are some of the notable numbers shared and conclusions drawn in the report:

People are visiting more

The burden of human uses on OSMP land is significant now, and will only grow more so in the future as Colorado's population swells.

Thirteen years ago, OSMP's acreage hosted about 4.7 million visitors — repeats included — per year. That figure is now up to 6.25 million, the report stated.

... and so are dogs

At least one million dogs visit OSMP annually, the report estimates, adding that majority of them are allowed off-leash.

Put off by the crowding

While Boulder's open space system is clearly an extremely valuable local asset and a regional draw, the volume of visitors has started to wear on some. According to resident perspectives collected in 2016, crowding is the top reason respondents gave when asked why they don't visit certain areas of OSMP anymore.

A good deal

Boulder as it's currently known would look and feel significantly different were it not for a historic purchase in 1912. For a total of $1,500, the city bought 1,200 acres of land along its mountain backdrop.

That's 200 times cheaper than the amount of money Boulder's spending now on a consultant that's assisting with the master plan process.

The system mostly serves white people

Despite the fact that Boulder open space and mountain parks are regional draws, the demographics of the system's visitors reflect the city's overwhelmingly white population. Just 11.5 percent of visitors are non-white, with the largest percentage of minority visitation coming from Latinos.

Officials struggle to enforce regulations

The report shares that "across the country, less than 1 percent of all natural resource violations are caught by rangers and other resource protection professionals."

Boulder's not an exception to that struggle. There are more than 85 rules that local rangers are tasked with enforcing, and they can't possibly track all of OSMP's acreage. Beyond that, the report explains, is the challenge of educating people on rules related to everything from trail stewardship to allowed uses to hunting to resource protection.

"Our staff fabricates and maintains an extensive portfolio of regulatory signs installed throughout the system," the report states. "When so many regulations are presented to visitors, visitors may become overloaded with information and miss some of the key things OSMP would like them to know."

OSMP is a 'unique transitional zone

"Two continental-scale ecological regions — the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains — merge within Boulder's open space and mountain parks, forming a unique transitional zone in which the city is located," the report explains.

This leads to an uncommon level of natural diversity. In fact, the report concludes, more than one-quarter of all plant species found in the state of Colorado can be found within the 45,000 acres of OSMP land.

Nesting raptors are one high-profile group benefitting from all the flora here; OSMP lands are considered to have the best quality of habitats for that group in the western U.S.

Wildlife diversity

According to the report, OSMP's system is currently home to 64 mammal species, 308 bird species, 132 types of butterflies, 34 different fish and 22 reptiles and amphibians.

Overdue for wildfire?

About 175 fires ago, the report states, it was normal for foothills grasslands — like the kinds Boulder can claim in the thousands of acres — to be burned every five to 30 years.

But many of OSMP's grasslands haven't burned in decades, the report states.

Scientists expect the incidence of wildfire to increase in Boulder as the climate warms.

Prairie dogs rising

The black-tailed prairie dog has seen significant reductions in population throughout the area — but not in Boulder, OSMP staff has found.

As of 2016, the critters inhabited more than 3,500 acres of OSMP grasslands, which is their largest occupation since systemwide mapping began 22 years ago.

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, or