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Colorado Governor Jared Polis puts his mask back on after signing an executive order at the grand opening of Fisher's Peak State Park near Trinidad, Colorado on Oct. 30, 2020. Fisher's Peak is the 42nd state park in Colorado, and is also one of the largest at over 19,000 acres in size. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Gazette)

Gov. Jared Polis made it happen near Trinidad on Friday:  Colorado's 42nd state park, and its second-largest, is officially a thing.

Fisher's Peak in Las Animas County was authorized by Senate Bill 3 and signed into law by the governor in June, using public and private money to make it happen.

“I’m thrilled to open Fishers Peak State Park,” Polis said at a noon ceremony Friday. "Together, our administration and the local community are enhancing and protecting the Colorado way of life by ensuring future generations will be able to explore and experience our natural wonders.

"Outdoor recreation is an economic engine for Colorado and this park will help create good-paying rural jobs, protect our environment, preserve wildlife habitat, improve access to the outdoors and provide educational opportunities for children.”

Local officials see it as an economic driver, but Polis also saw it as an iconic gem of 55 square miles of public land — 19,200 acres — for Southern Colorado on the horizon of Trinidad. The only state park that's bigger is the 70,000-acre State Forest State Park east of Walden in northern Colorado.

With officials and well-wishers wearing masks and standing socially distanced apart, Polis noted Colorado was one of the few states that hasn't closed its state parks during the pandemic, and as a result they've seen more use.

He laid out his vision for trails, roads, restrooms, campgrounds and other improvements in the newest park.

Only part of the park is open for, however, for what Polis called it, "a peek," from daylight to dusk. Assessments of the property, including archaeological and habitat studies, are being done before a full opening.

"Today is our first look, but the potential is amazing," Polis said.

Besides the seed money, the park will benfit from $6.35 million from Habitat Stamp funds paid in order to get a hunting or fishing license in Colorado, as well as those who don’t hunt or fish but buy a Habitat Stamp to help protect and conserve habitat for wildlife.

The bipartisan legislation to create the state park was led by two Pueblo Democrats, Senate President Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee, with two Republicans, Sen. Dennis Hisey of Fountain and Rep. Perry Will of New Castle, a retired state wildlife officer.

The park is the fruit borne from a broad partnership.

The governor on Friday thanked The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Great Outdoors Colorado Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico and the city, Las Animas County commissioners, state legislators and members of the community who made it possible. 

The partnership extends across agency lines in state government.

State highway director Shoshana Lew talked about road improvements, including from nearby Interstate 25 and Exit 11, including and $11 million in interchange work, which has been on state and government's wish lists for a long time.

"We know and we hope this project will mean more traffic in the area, because of all the folks coming to enjoy the vast great outdoors will need to get here," she said. 

Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization, applauded the news Friday.

“Coloradans support this vision and we’re thrilled they will have more opportunities to weigh in as our state works to conserve and protect Colorado wildlife and provide access to wild places for future generations,” executive director Kelly Nordini said in a statement.

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