How Boulder Builds a Legacy of Land Conservation

-By Julia Steege-Reimann-

Boulder, Colorado engages residents to improve trails, open spaces, and programming.

“One of the major crimes our society has committed is that of allowing itself to lose appreciation of nature. Boulder residents have not only recognized what was happening but have taken positive action to reverse the trend.”

This 1971 quote from Boulder, Colorado’s Assistant Manager could have just as easily been written today. The City’s enduring legacy of land conversation continues stronger than ever.

Since the late 1890s when Boulder’s residents approved the City’s first land purchase, the City has worked on developing an impressive network of trails, recreation areas, open spaces, and programming.

More recently, Boulder is focusing on engaging residents to ensure that the City’s conservation legacy endures for future generations to come.

“Today, City of Boulder staff remain committed to building on past progress and successes,” said Jane Brautigam, Boulder’s city manager. “We strive to ensure that the city’s enduring value of conservation shapes the services we deliver to community members.”

The City of Boulder regularly conducts The National Community Survey (The NCS) to gather feedback from community members. These efforts have led to high ratings on The NCS. 

“Boulder is a leader in using several types of data to guide improvements to the City’s natural environment,” said Matt Fulton, National Engagement Director for Polco / National Research Center (NRC).

These efforts have led to multiple awards and recognitions, including a Voice of the People Award for excellence in the Natural Environment. This is the only national award that honors local governments based on feedback from residents. The award is presented by Polco / National Research Center (NRC) and the International City & County Management Association (ICMA). This award acknowledges local governments that have the highest ratings on The NCS and that take the best actions on behalf of their communities.

Community Engagement Framework

To involve the community in building upon past successes, the Boulder City Council approved a strategic community engagement framework in November 2017. This engagement framework provides city departments with a clear vision of how to engage residents to preserve and enhance the city’s natural lands.

Already, this community engagement framework has helped the City of Boulder to develop an Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) Master Plan.

To develop the Master Plan, community members submitted more than 10,000 comments. To gather this feedback, staff hosted community events, drop-in listening sessions, and sent out a survey. City leaders thoughtfully engaged members of the Latinx community, people with disabilities, and youth. 

The resulting OSMP Master Plan describes focus areas and the values community members share related to open space. It identifies community members’ aspirations and broad management strategies to achieve those aspirations.

The Plan also sets manageable expectations about what can be achieved given the City’s unknown financial future. It prioritizes strategies into three tiers to describe the relative importance of the strategies and the general timing with which they would be implemented.

Using Feedback to Provide Better Service

In addition to engaging residents to develop the OSMP Master Plan, the City of Boulder gathers feedback to improve and expand the services it provides.

Since 2010, the City has conducted five statistically valid surveys to understand how residents value the City’s open space system, why they visit City natural lands, and how they would like to enjoy and protect them in the future. The City also conducts frequent customer-satisfaction surveys of its parks and recreation offerings.

“This information not only helps to improve our day-to-day services but it also provides important insights we use to develop long- term management plans that are in alignment with community conservation values,” said Brautigam.

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