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History of Boulder's Land Use

History of Boulder's Land Use

Boulder's Land Use

Open Space and Mountain Parks have been visited and utilized by people for a considerable period of time; early projectile points found on OSMP date from prior to A.D. 500.

Mountain Park lands were likely used primarily for hunting and planting. Some trails and roads, such as Gregory Canyon and Bear Canyon, probably followed aboriginal trails. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 acknowledged Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne ownership of what is now the Boulder area. At the time of the first recorded White contact in 1858, the Boulder area was a winter camp for the Southern Arapaho. Settlers' Park at the mouth of Boulder Canyon is considered by some historians to be the approximate location for the "first White camp" in the Boulder area. Prior to this, several other groups probably used the area, including the Cheyenne, Apache, Ute and Shoshone.


Cattle ranching and truck farming were early uses of property that is now protected as Open Space and Mountain Parks, with known homesteads dating from 1882.

  • Bachelder Ranch (present site of Chautauqua Park) grew alfalfa and an apple orchard; the original stucco ranch house is still in good condition.
  • John Brierly and his family owned the land that is now Settlers' Park, raising fruits, vegetables and flowers.
  • In 1883, the Rea family built a homestead at the mouth of Gregory Canyon and established a small vegetable business.
  • Cattle operations probably utilized now-protected land for grazing and logging purposes, including Walker Ranch, and the Dunn-DeBacker, Brammeier, and Blake operations. 
  • The Gregory Canyon Road, originally constructed for access to the newly opened gold fields at Black Hawk and Central City, was also used by local ranchers to bring cattle to Denver from the western slope prior to 1890.

Sawmills and Sandstone

Evidence of early timber operations is scattered across OSMP. Another early operation was stone quarrying, particularly for Lyons sandstone, in such areas as Woods-Bergheim and Anderson Quarries, the Third Flatiron, and Settlers' Park. Quarrying operations probably began in the 1880's, and a variety of historic buildings in the Boulder area made use of sandstone from Mountain Parks' quarries.


Water resources were also a part of OSMP history thanks to the presence of Boulder Creek. The city's first reservoir was built in 1876 at Red Rocks, and was later replaced by Sunshine Reservoir to the north. Silver Lake Ditch runs through OSMP property, and was constructed in 1888.


Recreation has historically been the most important land use on OSMP. The city's protected land has supported a wide variety of activities, from hiking and camping to community steak fries and family picnics.

Area Histories

Marshall Mesa History

Marshall Mesa is located on OSMP land near the town of Marshall and is the site of some of the oldest coal mines in Colorado. Coal was discovered in Marshall in 1859. During the 1860's and 1870's coal mining prospered and Marshall's population exceeded that of Boulder. For more information on this area, download a copy of Joanna Sampson's Walking through History on Marshall Mesa pdf.

Mount Sanitas History

Mount Sanitas was named after the sanitarium which was located just east of the present trailhead. Learn more about the history of the Mt. Sanitas area on the Cultural Resources self-guided history hike, Hiking in Mount Sanitas: The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Doudy-DeBacker-Dunn History

Numerous cabins and homesites may be seen throughout the South Mesa area. The stone building located on the north side of South Boulder Creek just past the South Mesa Trailhead is all that remains of the historic homesite known as the Doudy-DeBacker-Dunn house. Learn more about this area on the Cultural Resources self-guided history hike, South Mesa Cultural Landscape Loop!

Historic Designations on OSMP

Flagstaff Mountain

The Flagstaff Mountain Cultural Landscape District is designated as an historic district and cultural landscape. This designation includes the Sunrise Circle Amphitheater, the Flagstaff Summit Shelter House, the Green Mountain Lodge and Greenman Spring, the Halfway House and restroom, the Wood Shelter, and the Morse Well.

Since the purchase of the eastern slope of Flagstaff Mountain from the federal government in 1898, residents have enjoyed this area and its spectacular views. Flagstaff Road was constructed in 1906, and the addition of the loop road and parking areas in the 1930's made the summit more accessible to visitors. The Sunrise Circle Amphitheater, Green Mountain Lodge and the Halfway House were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1934 and 1935. The trails and structures have been in continuous use since that time.

Learn more about this area on the Cultural Resources self-guided history hike, Flagstaff Summit Adventure!

Marshall Mesa

The Marshall Mesa Historic District was designated by Boulder County in 1997. OSMP received funding from the State of Colorado to construct an interpretive trail on Marshall Mesa describing the coal mining and milling that occurred in the Marshall area in the early 1900's.

The Fox Mine Office and the Hogan Stone Barn on Open Space and Mountain Parks lands near Cherryvale Road are on the National Register of Historic Places.