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Westminster Hills Open Space Area Management Plan

6/4/24: During the June 3 Study Session, City Council provided direction to retain the current size (470 acres) of the Westminster Hills Open Space Off-Leash Dog Area. Next steps include re-designating that open space into parkland, refining a management plan for the site, and addressing policy, operations, and capital improvements. View the June 3 Study Session packet.

ABOUT

Westminster Hills Open Space (WHOS) is an expansive 1,000+ acres of rolling prairie, exhibiting beautiful, uninterrupted panoramic views of the mountains. About 470 acres on the eastern side is currently utilized as an off-leash dog area, while the western portions require dogs to be to be on-leash. A regional Greenway Trail crosses through WHOS from the southeast to northwest.   

WHOS has seen a significant increase in use since the initial designation of a small off-leash area in 2000. With subsequent expansion to 470 acres, WHOS’ popularity grew—reaching over 750,000 visits annually. This has led to the proliferation of informal social trails that has degraded the site’s biodiversity and ecology. Despite expanding parking six times, illegal parking has become common, presenting public safety issues for pedestrians, motorists, and the surrounding community. As part of the City's commitment to open space stewardship, the 2014 Open Space Stewardship Plan identified WHOS as a priority area for an Area Master Plan. Following a conditions assessment by an independent, third-party environmental firm, the conditions assessment includes recommendations aligned with the Westminster Municipal Code calling for a reduced off-leash dog area to enable restoration and preservation of the remaining natural landscape. 

WHAT'S HAPPENING NOW?

6/4/24: During the June 3 Study Session, City Council provided direction to retain the current size (470 acres) of the Westminster Hills Open Space Off-Leash Dog Area. Next steps include re-designating that open space into parkland, refining a management plan for the site, and addressing policy, operations, and capital improvements. View the June 3 Study Session packet.

The City shared the conditions assessment findings with the community in November 2023 and January 2024. The City has received significant attention from the community about their expressed desire to protect and preserve Westminster Hills Open Space for our collective enjoyment. The City shares that desire. Please rest assured that we are still in the early stages of this conversation, and no decisions have been made yet. Over the past several years, the City has been looking for solutions that best balances the need to protect our natural open spaces and preserves the community’s ability to enjoy Westminster Hills. Simply put, Westminster Hills is being loved to death, and we are exploring strategies to protect and preserve a beloved destination for our community. Please find an overview of our current findings in the documents shared below.  

ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY

The City is committed to engaging the community about the WHOS Area Management Plan through various opportunities for public engagement, including surveys, public meetings, and open houses.   

  • Presentation + Q&A Session: Wednesday, March 6 
    If you were unable to attend, the meeting was recorded and can be viewed on the City’s YouTube page.
    View the 3/6/24 presentation slides
     
  • Management Options Survey
    This survey is now closed (as of March 21). View the results.
     
  • Current Feedback
    Current feedback that has been submitted as of 2/15/24 can be viewed here.
     
  • Community Advisory Team (CAT)
    3/20/24: We are pleased to inform you that we have established a Westminster Hills Open Space (WHOS) Community Advisory Team (CAT). We received more than 50 applications from qualified residents, and we appreciate the community's engagement and passion for WHOS. We believe we have identified a group of engaged residents and subject matter specialists who best represent the various interests of our community.

    The CAT is comprised of eight community members, two Parks, Recreation, Libraries and Open Space Advisory Board (PRLOSAB) members, a Jefferson County Open Space representative, and Mayor Nancy McNally as the Council Liaison. The team will work closely with the Director of Parks, Recreation and Libraries (PRL) Tomas Herrera-Mishler on key policy discussions related to the off-leash area at WHOS. The group will be focused on developing a path forward that balances the need to protect and preserve the open space for the community to enjoy including the size, location, rules and amenities of an off-leash dog area.

    WHOS CAT Members:
    Wayne East – Parks, Recreation, Libraries, and Open Space Advisory Board Representative
    Tonya Yost – Parks, Recreation, Libraries, and Open Space Advisory Board Representative
    Mary Ann Bonnell – Jefferson County Open Space Representative
    Robby Baker – Community Member
    John Carpenter – Community Member
    Andrew Guthrie – Community Member
    Bill Janowsky – Community Member
    Erin Kendall – Community Member
    Melissa Koss – Community Member
    Tanya O’Conner – Community Member
    Bethany Yaffe – Community Member

    Mayor Nancy McNally – City of Westminster Council Liaison (non-voting)
    Tomás Herrera-Mishler – Parks, Recreation and Libraries Director (non-voting)
    Ashley Edinger – Facilitator (non-voting)

    Each member of the CAT provided a brief written biography that we have included below.
  • View the Community Advisory Team Member Bios

 

The information that Open Space staff developed in the presentation below includes one of many scenarios that are being studied, and we will come back to the community later this spring with a set of options and scenarios for feedback. After we have engaged the community, we will present to City Council in a public meeting, and the community will again have another opportunity to voice their feedback with City leadership.   

IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

TIMELINE

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Westminster Hills Open Space includes over 1,000 acres of protected natural space offering scenic views, native wildlife, and trails acquired as open space.

No. The land was acquired to protect the environment and offer passive recreation as designated open space. The off-leash dog area was initially a small pilot project added in 2000 that expanded to its current size of over 400 acres due to its popularity. Per the Westminster Municipal Code, lands acquired with open space funds shall be preserved and managed in a natural condition (W.M.C. 13-5-3(A)).
The Westminster Hills Open Space Multi Model Improvements Project provides roughly one mile of a 12-foot-wide multipurpose trail to make a connection between Simms Street and Alkire Street. In addition to this connection, crews added wayfinding signage, fencing, and drainage improvements in response to community feedback after a cyclist death a few years ago. The City continues to work to improve safe travel for residents along 100th Avenue. This multi modal project received federal funds ($1,400,000) in 2021, which covered roughly 95% of the project cost. Work commenced in late 2023 and is anticipated to be complete in May of 2024.

No. The land was acquired as and is designated as open space.

Leashed dogs would still be welcome at Westminster Hills Open Space and throughout the City's parks and trails systems. The City also has community off-leash dog parks located at Little Dry Creek Park (3655 W 69th Place) and Big Dry Creek Park (1700 W 128th Avenue). The City is also exploring other off-leash options throughout the city.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Westminster Hills Open Space was acquired through twelve different open space purchases beginning in 1988 with the purchase of the 400 acre Colorado Hills Property, followed by the purchase of 125 acres in 1995 from the Brauch Family. More land was purchased over several years including the addition of Woman Creek Reservoir Property in 2017, which is 345 acres. Westminster Hills Open Space is now roughly 1,000 acres. This open space land was acquired using over $4.5 million from the Westminster Parks Open Space and Trails’ (POST) funds and more than $4.7 million from Natural Resources Damages and Department of Energy Funds and grants from Jefferson County and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).  

Westminster Hills Open Space Area Management Plan Study Area

Purpose
The Area Management Plan is to ensure that Westminster Hills Open Space is being managed to meet the purposes for which the land was acquired: conserve and protect the shortgrass prairie along with the animals and plants that call it home while providing appropriate recreational opportunities. More information about the purpose of open space acquisition can be found here: Open Space Program

The City of Westminster is evaluating the current condition of the Westminster Hills Open Space and developing an area management plan. This includes the status of the ecological and recreational resources, the development of a set of desired future conditions for the site, and the creation of management actions to achieve that vision. There will be several opportunities for public input throughout the process, and this site will be updated regularly to provide information. 

Off-Leash Dog Opportunity
In 2000, the City established a one-year pilot program for a dog off-leash area on 27 acres of the Westminster Hills Open Space land. Westminster City Council modified city code to allow the development of an off-leash dog area with the understanding provided by the City Manager that such activities cannot have a detrimental effect on the natural qualities for which the open space was originally acquired. At the end of the year, the pilot project was deemed successful based on the high level of visitation and allowed to continue.

In 2008, the off-leash dog area was extended to the remainder of the approximately 1,000 acre Open Space. One year later, after numerous negative encounters between dogs and coyotes as well as an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague among prairie dogs, the off-leash dog area was reduced to the 470 acres it currently is today.

Visitation
Since the inception of the dog off-leash opportunity area, the popularity of the Westminster Hills Open Space has grown dramatically. In the past decade, the available parking at Westminster Hills has been expanded six times. The most recent estimates indicate more than 750,000 visits to the Open Space each year.

Ecological Value
The City of Westminster has prioritized the protection of natural areas by dedicating 15% of its land to open space property. Westminster Hills Open Space makes up roughly 1/3 of the City’s open space land. In 2017, the City of Westminster requested a natural resource assessment to be done on the Westminster Hills Open Space from ERO Resource Corporation. That report identifies numerous endangered and threatened species as well as critical habitat such as wetlands and the shortgrass prairie in the study area.

Westminster Hills Open Space is filled with a diversity of wildlife. The natural resource assessment performed by ERO Resource Corporation identified several important prairie species that currently reside at Westminster Hills Open Space or may in the future because of suitable habitat conditions. Those animals are:

  • Black-tailed Prairie Dog – Keystone Species
  • Bald Eagle – Keystone Species
  • Western Burrowing Owl – Threatened Species
  • Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse – Threatened Species
  • Northern Leopard Frog – Species of Concern

The Open Space also provides suitable habitat for potential wildlife species with dwindling populations. The Preble's meadow jumping mouse has not been seen at Westminster Hills Open Space, but the open space provides sufficient habitat along Woman Creek and portions of Church Ditch. This species has been a threatened species since 1998, so it is vital to conserve their preferred habitat. Northern leopard frogs are a species of concern in the state of Colorado. Even though this species has not been seen on the open space land, it is dependent on wetland habitat like areas provided within the Westminster Hills Open Space to lay their eggs and prevent the amphibian from drying out. The City of Westminster will continue to conserve the natural characteristics of the Westminster Hills Open Space to provide refuge for these crucial wildlife species.

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