Larimer County & City of Loveland Parks Restoration

Jump to City of Loveland’s Vistenz-Smith Park

The county awarded this contract in the amount of $67,993 to Logan Simpson Design, Inc.:


With a Greater Outdoor Colorado (GOCO) grant, Larimer County has hired a team of qualified planners, landscape architects, engineers, and environmental specialists – Logan Simpson Design – to perform an assessment of recreation and conservation opportunities and potential actions in the flood damaged areas of the Big Thompson river in Larimer County.

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Larimer County Natural Resource Department has managed lands within the county since 1954, beginning with over 4000 acres on four large reservoirs owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. Following the Big Thompson River flood of 1976, the Natural Resource Department (then called “Larimer County Parks Department”) was given 163 individual flood parcels that were purchased by the Federal Government when over 51% of those landowners’ properties were lost.

The County has worked closely with stakeholder groups to maximize river access on those parcels where feasible. In 1995 and again in 1999, Larimer County voters passed the Help Preserve Open Space (HPOS) initiative for a 1⁄4 cent county-wide sales tax specifically for the purchase and management of open space, natural areas, wildlife habitat, regional park preserves, regional trails, and agricultural lands.

The HPOS tax revenue is shared between Larimer County (~42%), the Cities of Ft. Collins and Loveland, and Towns of Berthoud, Estes Park, Johnstown, Wellington, and Timnath (~58%), and is due to end in 2018. Within Larimer County, the Natural Resources Department has conserved (and manages) over 26,000 acres in fee and 8,000 acres in conservation easements with the HPOS tax, in addition to the reservoir parks and the 1976 flood parcels. Also within the Canyon, the City of Loveland manages the 318-acre Viestenz-Smith Park and the United States Forest Service (USFS) has large landholdings with existing trails at Round Mountain and Crosier Mountain.

Significant changes occurred along the Big Thompson River corridor as a result of the record flood event (over 19,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) peak flow) in September 2013. The course of the river has changed in many areas, while the floodplain has been significantly altered or widened, infrastructure has been completely or partially destroyed leaving vacant land parcels that may not be rebuilt upon, and many stretches of Highway 34 were destroyed or damaged.

Efforts are underway to redefine the floodplain, assess damage to structures and determine if landowners can rebuild, and assess damage to public facilities including parks/facilities managed by Larimer County, the City of Loveland and the USFS, among others. The Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition (BTRRC) has formed and received grant dollars to assess the biological, hydraulic, geomorphic, and resource values of the river, facilitate a public input process, and provide risk-based restoration recommendations for agency partners and landowners via a river restoration master plan. The BTRRC master planning effort has the express support of the City of Loveland, Larimer County, CDOT and other agencies and will provide valuable information to agency partners for future conservation and recreation planning.

This conservation and recreation assessment and plan will include the mainstem of the Big Thompson River from the Olympus Dam near Estes Park, CO to Morey Wildlife Reserve (approximately 6 miles downstream of the canyon mouth) and the North Fork of the Big Thompson River from its confluence with the Big Thompson to the border with Rocky Mountain National Park.

There is no existing comprehensive recreation and conservation assessment for this reach of the Big Thompson River. Within the canyon there is a mixture of lands held in private ownership primarily along the river’s edge and lands held in public ownership (USFS, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, City of Loveland, Larimer County, Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District, etc.), landlocked behind them. Therefore, there is little existing designated recreational access to the river or trails/trailheads connecting to these public lands.

The Big Thompson Canyon is the backyard to the City of Loveland and the gateway into the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park, and where an estimated 1.8 million travelers drive annually. In 2013, the USA ProCycling Challenge passed through the canyon twice.

Identifying and providing additional land conservation opportunities and designated recreational access points within the canyon is a critical gap and need along this corridor – similar to efforts completed in the Poudre Canyon to the north. Following September’s catastrophic flooding event, opportunities to address this need are available and pressing. The rush of current efforts to rebuild (existing parks, trails and US Highway 34) within the canyon, combined with the demonstrated need to protect floodplain areas (to prevent further loss of infrastructure, life and property value into the future), combined with recreation and conservation potential in the Canyon, all contribute to an immediate and urgent need to assess these opportunities while collaborating to create a plan of action for all entities involved.

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City of Loveland: Viestenz-Smith Park Restoration

Work on V-Smith Park is supposed to start in the fall of 2016.

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