SPLT believes the most tangible and effective way we can help prairie wildlife is to acquire and protect the ground under their feet. We have established six prairie preserves in southeastern Colorado, which cover over 32,000 acres of native grassland. SPLT owns and directly manages over 30,000 acres and holds conservation easements on an additional 2,000 acres.
Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve
Established in 2015 and expanded subsequently, Heartland Ranch sprawls across approximately 25,000 acres (almost 40 square miles). This is an area bigger than any one of Colorado’s state parks and several national parks. It is located in Bent County, which has some of the best remaining intact shortgrass prairie habitat in the Southern Plains. SPLT has reintroduced a herd of bison on the property. Other large animals include pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and elk (a rarity in the shortgrass prairie). Dozens of miles of seasonal streams thread through the property, in addition to a variety of native animals and plants. The rolling grassland terrain supports black-tailed prairie dogs, which are a keystone species in the prairie. Several rare plants are found on Heartland, as documented in our June 2017 BioBlitz, including Colorado Green Gentian and Arkansas Valley Evening Primrose. Thanks to Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Lottery for supporting the expansion of Heartland Ranch in 2018 and again in 2020. Those projects earned SPLT the Starburst Award in 2020. The 2020 purchase added approximately 7,000 acres to Heartland Ranch, much of which lies within the Medford Spring Grassland Conservation area, which NativeEnergy helped us to purchase through a forward sale of carbon credits.
Raven’s Nest Nature Preserve
Established in 2013 and expanded in 2015, Raven’s Nest covers nearly 5,000 acres (almost 7.5 square miles). It is located near SPLT’s Heartland Ranch. It includes rolling shortgrass prairie, seasonal creeks and gullies, a several mile perennial stretch of Rule Creek, and gorgeous Dakota sandstone outcroppings. The property provides homes for a variety of herptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and native plants. There are prairie dog populations that attract coyotes, swift foxes, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, and many other creatures. The streams sustain plains leopard frogs, tiger salamanders, dragonflies, shorebirds, and other water-dwellers. A variety of lizards, toads, skinks, and snakes, and the western ornate box turtle use the rock outcroppings and other habitats throughout the preserve. The preserve was named after the Chihuahuan ravens who have multiple nests on the property. The Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz Nature Preserve is located within Raven’s Nest’s borders.
Fresh Tracks Nature Preserve
Our charter preserve, established in 1998, is Fresh Tracks Nature Preserve, a stunningly beautiful 1,280 acre (two square mile) shortgrass prairie expanse. It has bounced back to life over the past two decades, given its protection from any impactful activities. Visitors are amazed at the beautiful stands of feathergrass and needle-and-thread. They sway in the wind and bring to life the concept of a “sea of grass.” Fresh Tracks is alive with wild creatures and native plants. We regularly see pronghorn, coyotes, badgers, raptors, and other wildlife. Special plants include native echinacea (purple coneflower) and Colorado green gentian. Fresh Tracks has thousands of green gentian plants and may contain one of the largest populations in existence. We think the area wildlife appreciates some of the changes we’ve made, including offering native fauna full refuge and making our fences wildlife-friendly.
Marianne Rees & Two Marys Nature Preserves
Established in 2000, the Marianne Rees Nature Preserve and Two Marys Nature Preserve together measure 1,300 acres (more than two square miles) and are located three miles south of Fresh Tracks Nature Preserve. Marianne Rees is adjacent to 640 acres of state land to the east. Two Marys borders the Comanche National Grassland, managed by the US Forest Service. The properties contain prairie dog colonies and areas of lush swales and diverse prairie wildflowers. In addition to prairie dogs, we regularly see coyotes, pronghorn, hawks, golden eagles, cottontail rabbits, native snakes, and diverse lizards there. Songbirds are frequent visitors, including lark buntings and horned larks.
Quail Ridge Nature Preserve
Established in 2003, Quail Ridge Nature Preserve is located in Lamar, Colorado. This 89 acre preserve provides shortgrass prairie open space in between housing developments. Here, native flora and fauna have a place they can call home. The landscape at Quail Ridge includes buffalograss, blue grama, little bluestem, and sideoats grama, dotted with soaptree yucca and a variety of wildflowers, such as blazingstar, sunflower, scurf pea, Colorado gumweed, buffalo gourd, lacy tansyaster, scarlet globemallow, showy milkweed, prairie clover, and devil’s claw. Wildlife observed on the preserve include scaled quail, ferruginous hawk, Chihuahuan raven, black-tailed jackrabbit, pronghorn, coyote, badger, and others.