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January 2023

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Photo Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy: Bartlett Mesa Ranch sits just south of the Colorado state border near the recently created Fishers Peak State Park. TNC and TPL worked together on the development of that park and hope this will provide opportunities to better connect it to the Sugarite Canyon State Park in the future. Cross-border connected parks are uncommon and could help support local economies with eco-tourism dollars.

Raton-area Land Acquisition Benefits People and Nature

Someday soon you can explore new trails, improve your health, and support local economies with a visit to Raton, N.M., thanks to Mary Lou Kern and the combined efforts of Trust for Public Land (TPL) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).


Kern — a second-generation rancher who believes in hard work, dotes on her daughter, engages with her community — just sold her 2,137-acre Bartlett Mesa Ranch property to TPL and TNC, step one in a planned effort to add the ranch property to the Sugarite Canyon State Park. Step two will be the eventual transfer to the state.


“Bartlett Mesa Ranch is a unique and beautiful property with deep historical significance to my family. The transfer of ownership to TPL and TNC is bittersweet as this land will change purpose after decades of grazing cattle,” Kern said. “I’m comforted in the assurance this special land will be preserved for future generations to enjoy and treasure.”


The City of Raton initiated the effort a few years ago.


“Outdoor recreation is a priority for Raton’s economic sustainability efforts, and we are pleased to work with our partners,” said Raton City Manager Scott Berry. “I’m excited the public will have the chance to experience the unique outdoor recreation opportunities of the northeast New Mexico high mesa country.”


Raton and Colfax County plan to work with the state to provide additional access, improving recreational opportunities that benefit the community’s health and economy.


“From start to finish, the Raton community has been thoughtful and engaged in their efforts to not only improve the physical health of their community but create economic growth opportunities through connecting people to nature,” said Patrick Gardner, Project Manager for Trust for Public Land. “We’re proud to have worked with The Nature Conservancy and we’re hopeful this partnership can serve as a model across the country.”


The Bartlett Mesa Ranch is mostly high-elevation grasslands reaching 8,500 feet with seasonal wetlands and volcanic rock sprinkled throughout the property. There are dramatic cliff-top views down into Sugarite Canyon and endless vistas over the mountains and plains spanning two states. It’s also home to native wildlife including elk, mule deer, mountain lion, and black bear. Many bird species live on or migrate through the area including mallards, redtail hawks, and ravens.


The property sits at the intersection of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, and is a part of a large, healthy natural area called the Southern High Plains. Spanning five states, the region includes more than 30-million acres of intact prairie grasslands, cliffs and canyons, forests, and riparian corridors along rivers and streams with high natural resource value. Most of the region has been, and continues to be, privately owned and managed by families like the Kerns who have chosen to pass that legacy and responsibility to the public for the benefit of future generations.


Bartlett Mesa Ranch sits just south of the Colorado state border near the recently created Fishers Peak State Park. TPL and TNC worked together on the development of that park with the hope of better connecting the two parks in the future. Cross-border connected parks, though uncommon, could help support local economies with eco-tourism dollars.


“We’re excited to be part of this project for many reasons,” said Terry Sullivan, TNC’s New Mexico State Director. “Developing solutions for people and nature is at the heart of our work. This collaboration also enables us to conserve a network of lands and waters across state boundaries to boost climate resilience, preserve biodiversity (all things nature), and support sustainable rural communities.”