Marilyn Hilgenberg – On Trails, Connections & Access

Everyone deserves a park within a 10-minute walk of home, and here in Loveland, we are livin’ the dream. Our good fortune is thanks to the foresight of the voters of 1995, who approved the 1/4-cent Help Preserve Open Space sales tax to protect open space, natural areas, wildlife habitat, regional parks and trails. In 2014, voters overwhelmingly supported the extension of the tax until 2043!

Caring for such a treasured community asset is a big job. City of Loveland open lands and trails manager Marilyn Hilgenberg and her team of seven put the Live Loveland values of celebration and engagement into action as they care for 8,274 acres of land across 30 sites in our town. We sat down with Marilyn recently to learn more about what keeps the Open Lands and Trails program so dynamic in Loveland.

What do you wish people knew about Loveland’s trails?
That these places are really an opportunity for our community to connect with each other in a subtle, unstructured way. We hear so often that what folks want is to meet people on the trail, and to discover new places in town to walk to. As close as we are to the foothills, people don’t have time. So lately, we’ve been figuring out moreways to have “quick hits” on trails – smaller, shorter soft surface trails and opportunities close to home. Overall, we estimate that there are 1,000,000 trail users each year.

What are the highlights of Loveland’s open lands and trails most recent efforts?
We’re working on some pretty exciting things in West Loveland. There’s the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition project going on, so we will be adding some river access in that area. As you head north from there, the city owns a large property called Skyline Natural Area which will offer foothill trails parallel to Devil’s Backbone. And a hop, skip, and a jump north from there is the Prairie Ridge Natural Area where the City owns almost 800 acres of land – we now have the designs to build a soft surface trail there which will go straight west to the foothills and connect to [Fort Collins’] Coyote Ridge Trail. The trail itself will hopefully be done by year end.

Wow. That sounds like a lot of activity – how do such big projects come together?
It takes a long time to align all of the pieces. You have to acquire the land, preserve it, analyze it, allow for comment, and create management plans. We make sure we’re doing it all mindfully. We’re fortunate to have the tax funding that we do, plus we’ve received $4 million in grants over the last two years, which further supports all the activity. And, the volunteers. We have been able to do amazing things because of so many volunteers and individual stewardship.

Is there new trail development in other parts of town?
Most recently, we closed on 160 acres worth of land in East Loveland along the Big Thompson River. Our goal is to have an East Big Thompson River Corridor trail system, which would go from downtown to I-25 and give us great regional connectivity to Johnstown.

Do you have a favorite trail?
The Mariana Butte Trail [pictured above] is one of the most fun because it follows along the butte, it runs through the Golf Course and then comes out at the river at our Oxbow Natural Area. To have the opportunity to walk out your door and walk through a hogback is really cool.

Any wildlife sightings?
Outdoor opportunity is at the heart what we are about, and we work hard to balance access while also conserving wildlife corridors. In the last year we’ve seen mink, muskrat, moose, elk, deer, bald eagles and golden eagles throughout our sites.

Live Loveland’s mission is to celebrate, engage and unite our community. Which of those actions do you think Loveland needs the most and how do you think we as a community can manifest it?
Unity comes from listening to each other. When we [at Open Lands] hear a complaint or an opinion, nine times out of ten we have a positive solution because we had a conversation. If we can do one thing, it is continuing to offer the opportunities to celebrate, engage and unite.

For the most up to date info on Open Lands/Natural Areas news, events and programs, visit the City of Loveland Open Lands Website. Or, register to volunteer.  

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By Jessica Moskwa Hawkins
February 18, 2019

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