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Hiking in Douglas County: Columbine Open Space

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If you’re looking for an easy walk, in an easy to get to place, check out Columbine Open Space. This open space park off Interstate 25 near Tomah Road is just out of the way enough to cut down on the number of visitors. On a Saturday in December, we saw just three other people – one of them was a walker, the second was flying a remote-controlled aircraft and the third was a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy keeping an eye on the park.

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Columbine Open Space protects 671-acres along East Plum Creek. Visitors cross a bridge over the creek to get to the parking lot (directions below). Near the parking lot, there are picnic tables, bathrooms (only open seasonally) and the remnants of a one room home, an outhouse (a “one-seater”), a stone wall (not sure what it was built for) and a large barn. While the Douglas County website doesn’t say anything about the history of the buildings, it does say the park was created by the acquisition of two properties – the 590-acre Maytag property and the 171-acre Ramsour/Kuester property. Likely one or both of these were ranches.

After exploring the remnants of the history here, it’s time to hit the trails. We started on the “South Loop Trail” near the bathrooms. Signs along this trail talk about preserving spaces for deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn. As you walk here, make sure you look at the footprints in the snow (in winter) and the dirt (the rest of the year). You’ll likely see hoof prints from deer and elk. You may also see their scat on their trail. This is a fun place to bring children who will enjoy looking for the footprints.

After walking down a short hill, visitors come to a trail split, you can hike the loop in either direction. After completely the short loop, there’s a bit of an uphill hike to return to the parking lot. As you walk back, there are two benches along the way, if you need a break or just want to enjoy the views.

The South Loop Trail is about 1.15 miles roundtrip.

To get to the “North Loop Trail,” walk through the parking lot and turn west (left) on the road. Just a few steps from the parking lot, you’ll see the North Loop Trail. Along this trail, you’ll come to a sign explaining the history of the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse. In 1998, this mouse was placed on the Endangered Species List. The creek area at Columbine Open Space is considered a habitat for this mouse.

About a third of a mile from the parking loop, you’ll come to a trail split for the north loop. We decided to go left. As you hike here, enjoy the 100+-mile view of the Colorado Rocky Mountains to your west.

During your visit, you may also want to contemplate the name of this park. While the Columbine flower is the state flower of Colorado, that is not why this park is named Columbine Open Space. The park was dedicated in 1999 the same year as the deadly shooting at Columbine High School. This part was dedicated in remembrance of the tragedy. Douglas County said on its website that the open space parcel, “Is dedicated to the quiet enjoyment of the out-of-doors for all families.”

However, quiet may not be the best way to describe this park. While it’s quiet in that there are not many visitors, it is not very quiet sound-wise. Because you are so close to I-25, expect to hear the sounds of the passing traffic. The park also sits next to railroad tracks and across the highway from another set of railroad tracks. We saw trains using both sets of tracks on a Saturday morning. (A child in our group counted 108 cars on one of the trains.)

Despite the trains and the traffic noise, Columbine Open Space is a peaceful little park with wide and easy walking trails.

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Details: The South Loop is about 1.15 miles roundtrip. The North Loop is about 1.4 miles roundtrip for a total of about 2.55 miles. Add in a little extra distance for whatever exploring you do of the barn and the other structures.

Special note: No dogs are allowed here, per Douglas County.

Directions: From I-25, exit Tomah Road (exit 174). Go east and take the Frontage Road north about 0.9 miles to a signed turnoff that says Open Space. A smaller sign in a field says Columbine Open Space. Take the bridge over the creek and drive up to the dirt parking lot.

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