The fields southeast of Boulder are dotted in the spring with the dark shapes of cows and their new calves.

That scene plays out every year, decade after decade, along a stretch of highway that is otherwise flanked by shopping malls, office parks and subdivisions because Boulder bought up ranchland as open space.

Now Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks is working with a team from the University of Colorado at Denver's Center of Preservation Research to have the area declared a rural historic landscape.

The designation is issued by the National Register of Historic Places. Instead of recognizing a single building, the designation recognizes "a geographical area that historically has been used by people or shaped or modified by human activity ... and that possesses a significant concentration, linkage or continuity of areas of land use, vegetation, buildings and structures, roads and waterways, and natural features."

Abigail Christman, a survey coordinator with the Center of Preservation Research, has been working with four graduate students to document the Cherryvale area's features and history.

"It's a great, intact landscape," Christman said. "It's amazing that such an intact ranching landscape continues to be used for grazing for way over 100 years now. It's pretty remarkable that they've retained that relationship."

Christman said the corridor along U.S. 36 is one of the only areas in the entire Denver metro area where historic ranch buildings are still surrounded by ranch land that is still used for pasture.

The assessment includes tracing the various uses of the land, which has been home to a dairy farm, an Arabian horse ranch and now a beef cattle ranch, as well as the buildings, the irrigation ditches and the land ownership.

'Best thing Boulder did'

Leo and Albert "Babe" Hogan, now in their 70s, sold the land to the city's open space department and now lease it back for their 500-head beef cattle operation. They have deep roots in Boulder. Their great-grandfather homesteaded the site that is now the Days Inn on South Boulder Road.

Leo Hogan calls Boulder's decision to buy up ranch land around the city "the best thing Boulder did."

"If they hadn't done that, this would all be houses," he said.

The Hogans keep ranching out of love, but they don't know who will take over when they can't do it anymore. The younger generation doesn't seem to be interested in his kind of work, Leo Hogan said.

Hogan said he's glad the city is working to preserve not just the land but also the history.

'This is a really special place'

The rural landscape designation doesn't have any regulatory power, but Christman said the information collected for the application can provide the basis for future interpretive signs and raise awareness about the area's importance.

One impetus for pursuing the rural landscape designation was the proposal last year to put a small buffalo herd on the same Boulder open space. That herd -- which CNN founder Ted Turner offered to Boulder as a gift -- would have displaced the cattle and the ranching use, Christman said.

The designation "could help fight future proposals to displace ranching uses," Christman said.

Boulder Cultural Resource Program Coordinator Julie Johnson comes from a ranching background herself, and she has an emotional attachment to the Cherryvale area.

"The people of the city of Boulder have a lot to be proud of," Johnson said. "You drive around and see all the developments and people moving in, which, of course, they want to do because Boulder is a wonderful place, but that changes what we do here.

"We want to document the history and shout out to the world that this is a really special place."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or