The beauty of Douglas County unfolds with each step toward the top of the Lincoln Mountain Open Space.
Hikers, bikers and equestrians who reach the apex of the main bluff are treated to a 360-degree panoramic view of southern Douglas County and northern El Paso County.
Pikes Peak, in all its glory, serves as the southwestern backdrop. The rolling hills and forest near the Palmer Divide adorn the southeastern landscape. Greenland Ranch and Spruce Mountain are noted nearby features.
At an expansive 876 acres, Lincoln Mountain Open Space is the latest addition to the parks and trails system. It opened on Labor Day weekend 2013, and through word of mouth, has gained a faithful collection of regulars.
In spite of a soft opening, “people found out about it,” said Cheryl Matthews, director of open space for Douglas County. Counters on the trails showed that 3,300 people were using the trail each month by the time the winter months hit.
“It’s getting a fair amount of usage,” she said. “It’s doing pretty well.”
Weekend mornings at the trailhead, a half-mile west of Highway 83 on Jones Road, see an increase in traffic, but only a few cars dot the parking lot on weekdays.
The county acquired the initial 771-acre property — previously known as Palmer Divide Ranch on West Cherry Creek — in 2009. An additional 105 acres comprising three 35-acre parcels, in a development known as Estates at Living Water, was purchased a year later. The total cost was $6.7 million, with $500,000 coming from Great Outdoors Colorado, which uses lottery proceeds for public land acquisitions.
The timing was fortuitous. There was once a very different set of plans, and Lincoln Mountain wouldn’t look anything like it does today.
“Ironically, a lot of the property was owned by a development group. They were in for a development proposal, then the bottom fell out of the economy,” Matthews said.
One of the general partners was “very conservation-minded” and convinced the other investors to sell to the county, she said. It then purchased the three undeveloped 35-acre parcels, a move that “kept the whole top of the mountain from having houses on it,” Matthews said.
With Lincoln Mountain, the county acquired high-value wildlife habitat, unique geologic formations and noteworthy recreational opportunities. The spot has become especially popular among equestrians and it is leased to Praying Hands Ranch, which utilizes the property as a satellite facility for equine therapy for veterans and for adults and children with physical and emotional disabilities.
Lincoln Mountain has similarities to the Hidden Mesa Open Space north of Franktown, but boasts its own distinct character. The lower loop is 4.5 miles and incorporates a variety of terrain from wide-open prairie to slower-paced technical rock sections, while winding through Gambel oak and Ponderosa pine. The upper loop, the shorter of the two, is roughly four miles long.
“It’s neat because it has a completely different feel to it. You can see from Pikes Peak to Longs Peak and there’s no trees,” Matthews said of the upper loop. “Then on the lower loop, you have all cap rock and trees. It’s kind of unique that way. The views are pretty incredible.”
The open space is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.