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"It was ours. You just can't imagine people tromping on your sacred ground."

late John and Marguerite Schoonhoven offered sage advice when their young daughters made a bad decision while growing up at the Flying J Ranch in the 1950s - such as riding their horses through the meadow where the family grew hay.

"They had this saying, 'Get the sack off your head!' " recalls daughter Linda Schoonhoven, now 60. "We couldn't even ride a horse in the field as kidsit would make the hay lie down, and they couldn't mow it. If you were in there, that was the kiss of death."

But the girls also knew a level of freedom on the vast ranch that few children ever experienceperhaps because their funny, intelligent mother had a "love affair" with the mountains and their father experienced his own kind of freedom as a pilot for United Airlines.

The girls mowed hay and herded cows. They changed the oil in the family's pickup. They were "range" kids gifted with the skills of survival that their parents had instilled.

Linda was in college when she saw the first elk walk through the hay field at Flying J. In those days there were few elk roaming the mountains between Conifer and Evergreen, she said. The family could have a garden and deer didn't disturb the vegetables much. And the Schoonhovens never worried about crossing paths with a bear or mountain lion when walking through the forested areas, because there was plenty of room for all the creatures to roam.

The girls went on to be flight attendants before pursuing other careers. One daughter died young, another worked for a large corporation in Washington, D.C., and Linda and her husband operated a large ranch in Monte Vista.

Around 1995, John and Marguerite began negotiations with Jefferson County Open Space to preserve the ranch they loved.

But when a road was carved through the meadow in 2005 to reach trails in the forested areas and to build a parking lot, Marguerite was crushed, and so were her girls, Linda said.

It doesn't matter that John once had a runway in the meadowthey say its impacts were minimalor that neighbors and strangers tell her how much they value the park, or how lovely the trails are. Linda hasn't ventured onto the property since it was sold.

She finds it hard to forget her mother's reaction to the road when it was built through the center of the meadow. Marguerite drew the drapes across the picture window in her home that framed the meadow, laid her head on the dining table and wept.

"She never opened her curtains again, never looked down the valley again," Linda said.

Keeping the land "production agricultural," as opposed to "decadent and unproductive," would have been Linda's preferencethough she admits that's hard to do these days on the outskirts of suburbia.

She believes her parents had second thoughts in the endbelieving they should have considered a conservation easementbut that's hindsight now.

"It was ours," Linda said. "You just can't imagine people tromping on your sacred ground."

Preserving sacred ground

Joy Lucisano, manager of acquisitions for Jefferson County Open Space, remembers the day she and John Schoonhoven swapped tales about their daughters' learning to drive. Both knew the fears and risk involved with that rite of passage, but John's girls may have had it a little easier, Lucisano remembers. They learned to drive when traffic did not pummel the 285 Corridor, in his pickup truck, but her daughters had to maneuver a $30,000 machine through a stampede of fast-moving vehicles.

Lucisano's role in the Schoonhovens' lives was primarily business during the six-year period that she and the family negotiated the sale of Flying J Ranch, but she can't help but remember, with fondness, the stories they shared. Lucisano attended Marguerite's funeral when she died in 2006, and John's on Feb. 25seven years after the family completed the sale of the Flying J.

The Schoonhovens sold 320 acres of their property to Open Space in five increments between 1997 and 2001 for roughly $2.2 million. The family donated another 42 acres to the project. About 40 acres of the ranch, the home, outbuildings and an airplane hangar remain in the family.

Flying J Ranch Open Space spans 415 acres and includes purchases from two additional landowners: the DeLaCastro and Tracey families. An opening dedication ceremony for the park was held in October 2005.

Today's two alternatives

Fewer families today are faced with the decision that the Schoonhovens had regarding ways to preserve large parcels of land, because few own large parcels anymore. But there are still landowners in the mountain community who cherish the value of wide-open spaces.

And there are two primary ways to preserve it: Jefferson County Open Space or the Mountain Area Land Trust, which processes conservation easements.

Since 1972, Open Space has purchased 51,000 acres and established 30 parks in Jefferson County, paid for through a half-cent sales tax.

MALT got its start in 1993 and over the last 14 years has preserved roughly 12,000 acres in conservation easements in the mountain communities.

"We serve a different niche," said Mel Andrews, vice president for land preservation at MALT.

The agencies work together on some projects to preserve land, though only about 5 percent of the property owned by Open Spacepreserved for wildlife habitat or view corridorwas processed as conservation easements.

"When you buy fee title, you allow the public in," said Open Space Director Ralph Schell, noting that his agency also manages the properties.

But land preserved by conservation easements is different, he said, and that puzzles some taxpayers.

"It's museum landyou can look at it but can't go on it," Schell said. "It's preserved the way it is, but it doesn't mean you can go hiking or birdwatching with a conservation easement."

MALT screens candidates carefully, and not all properties qualify, which is also true for Open Space.

Linda Schoonhoven knows the easement process well because she and her husband spent years completing a conservation easement on their ranch in Monte Vista.

If she has one thing to offer for those considering either option, it involves good communication.

"Ours is a cautionary taleif you are considering a sale to open space or a conservation easement," she said.

"Spell it out in writingexactly what it is you want to preserve or conserve - don't make assumptions."

Joy Lucisano said she tried hard during her negotiations with the Schoonhovens to avoid assumptions.

Her agency brought forward many designs and concepts about how to develop the park over the course of several years, even after the land had been sold to Open Space, but there were constraints.

"There was a time when John said to me, in front of Marguerite, 'Dear, we don't own the property anymore,' " Lucisano remembers. "There is no perfect, ideal situation; there is always one or two things you can't meet on or agree onand a litany of reasons why."

Lucisano's role has become more complicated today than it was 13 years ago, as multiple generations of families often get involved in the decision-making process.

It was emotional enough for John and Marguerite, who chose to work through it on their own.

They knew County Road 73 would one day be widened, and they talked about it with Lucisano, she remembers. They also spoke of the slow-moving wheels of governmentas if the reality of change would be postponed for an indefinite period.

But time escalated for the Schoonhovens when Jefferson County began road improvements at the intersection of Shadow Mountain Drive and County Road 73 near the Flying J.

It seemed a good idea, at the time, for county staff to address the entrance designs to Flying Ja park that had not yet been developed. And they determined that it was necessary to dig a new channel for the creek on Flying J to accommodate the widening of the roada creek that ran along the edge of Marguerite's beloved meadow. Suddenly, for John and Marguerite, the future had arrived.

"Marguerite had an extraordinary attachment to the property," said Lucisano. "I don't believe she thought it would happen in her lifetime."

Lovers of open space

Dennis Burns' dog, Sid, knows three human words: "food," "ride" and "walk."

For the Burns family, which includes Dennis' wife, Patti, walks are a family affair. And the outings are often a daily event at Flying J Ranch, where they have strolled along Shadow Pine Loop "hundreds of times" over the last several years.

Words like "wonderful" and "beautiful" come tumbling out as they describe the experience.

They even love the amenitiesthe gazebo built of thick logs for family gatherings, the attractive structure that houses the restrooms, and the rock wall in the parking lot.

"This is a special park; it's very serene here," Dennis said Sunday at Flying J. "There's an inner feeling of peace, a …" he pauses, struggling for the right word to express his bond with the land.

The Burnses were just one of many couples, single people and families who sloshed across snowy trails beneath a warm, friendly sky on Feb. 24.

"I love it; it's convenient, and it feels safe," said Ali Ruitta, just as a park ranger strolled up behind her on a trail, making his rounds.

"It's a great job," said Ranger Mike Morin, relating that Flying J has a steady flow of visitors year-round, while Meyer Ranch Open Space Park sees a little more activity in fall and winter, and Pine Valley Ranch near Pine sees more visitors in the summer because of a stocked fishing pond and its connecting trails to a national forest.

The Burnses have traveled to all the parks in Jefferson County. They enjoy hiking through Alderfer/Three Sisters in Evergreen, but they are most fond of the Flying J.

The Burnses were worried when construction began at Flying J to build the park. They watched as the meadow was disturbed for a road and the creek was moved away from County Road 73.

"I questioned it at firstit was an invasion," Dennis said. "But it came out beautiful. It's almost invisible from the highway until you get onto (the property)."

The couple were unaware on Sunday that John Schoonhoven had been buried two days before. He and Marguerite are now part of history, as referenced on an Open Space informational sign held up by two sturdy posts near the parking area. The sign traces the land back to its original homesteaders in the late 1800s and, before that, Native Americans who left behind artifacts as they migrated through the area along the Ute Trail.

"I am such a fan of open space parksany open space park," Dennis Burns said. "If I could do so, I would be out in the woods all the time. It's very special … very spiritual."




































































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