Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain: 12,000+ years in the making, and less than a month to go!

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

June 6th is a pretty impressive day. According to Wikipedia (which has never steered me wrong), many an important thing has happened on the June 6ths of the past. Some milestones include:

1523: Gustavus I becomes King of Sweden

1850: Levi Strauss makes his first pair of blue jeans

1916: East Cleveland voters approve women’s suffrage

1944: D-Day

1962: The Beatles meet producer George Martin

In just less than one month, another milestone will be added to June 6th’s roster: the openings of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space and, trust me, they’re right up there with getting to wear denim and knowing who the walrus is. You should be bubbling over with excitement by now. Here’s why:

In 2004, the City of Fort Collins purchased over 18,000 acres of shortgrass prairie, foothills, shrubland, cliffs and rock outcrops, wetlands and springs 25 miles north of Fort Collins near the Wyoming border, now know as Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. The same year, Larimer County purchased 15,000 acres of adjoining foothills and woodlands, now known as Red Mountain Open Space, creating over 30,000 acres of protected prairie and foothills. The properties are, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.

A wide variety of animals and plants make their homes at Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain, including elk, pronghorn, swift fox, black bears, mountain lions, golden eagles, burrowing owls, the Colorado blue butterfly, the butterfly plant (no longer found anywhere else in Larimer County), mountain mahogany and ponderosa pines woodlands. There’s also some mighty impressive geology happening on the sites, including the Cheyenne Ridge, which is the upper edge of the Denver Basin, and the Big Hole (trust me, it’s more than just a hole).

Both properties also have an incredible human history. Soapstone Prairie is home to the famous Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, a National Historic Landmark, that’s recognized worldwide as one of the most well-preserved and extensive Folsom culture occupation sites in North America. The site dates from around 12,000 years ago and was excavated in the 1930s by the Smithsonian and the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science). Archaeological work on both Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain demonstrates an extensive and diverse human history – from PaleoIndians of the Ice Age, to millennia of American Indian groups, to more than a century of homesteaders and sheep and cattle ranchers.

Perhaps the most exciting element of both properties is, come June 6th, 2009, we get to experience them for ourselves. When Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain open, miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, along with a variety of public programs on the history, ecology and geology of the area will be available to everyone.

Over the coming weeks, check back to learn more about what makes these properties so special. If you can’t wait even that long, these links may sate you for the time being:

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area

“Speaking History,” The Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project

Map of Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain

Soapstone Prairie Program Guide

Red Mountain Open Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soapstone's beautiful rolling shortgrass prairie

Soapstone's beautiful rolling shortgrass prairie

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