Boulder County Commitment to Open Space


It’s clear that Boulder loves open space. The city is surrounded by a green buffer of land. And no one can build on it.

In fact, Boulder was the first municipality in the country to approve an open space sales tax, back in 1967. The purpose: to collect money to buy, preserve and maintain open space, to protect land before it could be developed on. If that wasn’t enough, in the ‘80s, residents approved another sales tax to boost the funding. Today, the Open Space and Mountain Parks program is about 92 percent funded by tax dollars.

Boulder continues to be an environmental leader. In 2016, the White House named Boulder a “Climate Action Champion.”

Today, the city of Boulder owns and manages a total of about 45,000 protected acres. This is divided between mountain land, parks, open space (29,000 acres) and utility land.

Boulder County has made great efforts to protect the area’s land. The combined county-wide open space sale and use tax is 0.6 percent. Its open space program owns and leases about 100,000 acres.

Between the city and county, that’s about 145,000 total acres of protected land in and around Boulder.

Much of that is open to the public to explore and enjoy, too. For example, about 61 percent of the county’s land is open to the public (although some may be restricted to protect wildlife and vegetation or for agricultural reasons).

A garden on Boulder Open Space. Courtesy photo

Although you may not realize it, with the bustling campus, busy downtown and proximity to Denver, a whopping one-third of Boulder County’s land is closed to the public so it can be leased to local farmers and ranchers. In total, Boulder County has nearly 20,000 acres of agricultural land.

The City of Boulder’s  protected land includes 155 miles of trails, plus greenways, wildlife habitat and more.

One cool side effect of preserving the land is how it has affected wildlife. The city says the protected habitat has become home to more than 1,200 deer, which you can regularly see walking through the western part of town and in people’s yards.

A moose in Bear Lake. Courtesy photo

Here’s a closer look at some other interesting ways Boulder has expressed its value of nature and open space:

  • Boulder has a population growth cap. Originally, it was limited to 2 percent but has loosened up to encourage more affordable housing.
  • The first piece of protected land purchased by the city of Boulder was the base of Flagstaff Mountain, which became a part of the Chautauqua. Since then, the city has bought more than 400 different properties.
  • The green buffer around Boulder also separates it from neighboring communities and creates the feeling of the “Boulder bubble.”
  • About 9 percent of the county’s open space land is closed for various reasons, such as wildlife concerns and public safety.

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