The 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
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
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,"
"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