Barbara Lawlor, Tolland. Railroad tracks run through Rollinsville and follow South Boulder Creek to the townsite of Tolland, through green meadows and aspen groves, gradually ascending until the tracks reach the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel, the way to the Western Slope.
As the cars lumber through some of the most scenic areas of Colorado, the sound of the train’s whistle echoing up the valley, the train crosses through the historic private property of Tolland Ranch.
On Monday, Boulder and Gilpin Counties announced that a Great Outdoors Colorado grant of $800,000 has been awarded to help complete the purchase of the $7.1 million conservation easement on the Tolland Ranch, which is south of Eldora Mountain Resort.
GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided between GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund, and school construction.
The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit organization, negotiated the agreement with the Toll family to place the land under an easement to restrict development, saving the wilderness beauty for the future.
This agreement includes eliminating the rights to build as many as 88 homes on the land. The ski resort would continue to lease part of the property that contains most of its 65-mile Nordic ski trail system.
South Boulder Creek Forest Legacy area, a mature subalpine forest, contains habitat for sensitive and endangered species such as the Canada lynx and boreal toad. Its protection will safeguard the health of South Boulder Creek, which provides critical drinking water for Denver and Boulder.
The Tolland Ranch property also provides habitat for mountain lion, elk, mule deer, bear, moose, river otter, and wild turkeys. Notably, elk herds use the Toll property as range and for calving. It is bordered by Roosevelt National Forest and James Peak Wilderness and contains many popular trail systems.
The land is adjacent to the East Portal and contains the historic, rustic, much photographed Tolland School, which was built in 1909 and is distinguished by a green roof and a distinctive coat of bright yellow paint. Amtrak’s California Zephyr ferries 370,000 passengers through the property every year. Before they enter the tunnel on the East side of the Divide, they can watch the scenery go by unblemished by a subdivision or mini mansions.
The deal involves many partners. The transaction is being funded by GOCO, $1.5 million from Boulder County, $4.9 million from the U.S. Forest Service and significant donations by the landowner. The project was rated first in the nation in 2013 by the USFS’ Forest Legacy Program.
Most of the property is in Gilpin County, but both Gilpin and Boulder County emergency services respond to calls involving recreation-related rescues and accidents and wildland fires that have occurred in the past.