Wade Shelton is driving along a gravel road that’s so bumpy his voice shakes as he talks, though the turbulence doesn’t slow his words. He’s besotted with this land in southern Colorado: 19,200 acres of old-growth oak forest, volcanic cliffs, and grasslands. Shelton, senior project manager at the Colorado office of Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit that helps preserve public lands, has dedicated the past six years to turning this private property into a public park that will serve Colorado’s growing number of recreationists while simultaneously conserving its unique habitat.
Privately owned or under corporate control for most of modern history, Fishers Peak hasn’t had to withstand many footsteps. At 9,633 feet, it’s not the state’s most impressive tabletop mountain, but no formation rises higher to its east in the entire country. From its lava-formed summit, the mesa—which towers above the southeastern Colorado town of Trinidad—gives way to untouched wilds thrumming with flora and fauna that have largely been left to exist away from the impacts of human exploration.