Public access on trust land

The State Land Board owns 2.8 million acres of land in Colorado. (That’s four percent of our state’s 66.5 million acres.) This land -- called trust land -- is not open to the public.

The public can access trust land only when the property is leased for public recreation. 

 

 

Fall/Winter 2020 Hunting Season - What's Publicly Accessible?

View the Colorado Hunting Atlas to determine where you can hunt on trust lands. 

The Public Access Program (PAP)

Sportsmen and women can enjoy 770,000 acres of state trust land through Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Public Access Program (PAP) in fall 2020. Trust land acreage enrolled in the PAP is continuing to expand. Read more about the expansion.

CPW holds a unique, 770,000-acre lease for the PAP in order to make trust land publicly accessible to sportsmen. CPW is responsible for ensuring that sportsmen comply with the rules and regulations of the lease. CPW's field staff must ensure that issues between public users and other existing lessees on the property are addressed and minimized. Like any lease, a trust land property enrolled in the PAP can be removed from the program if there concerns that cannot be resolved. 

Read more about public access on trust land.

View the entire lease contract. (FYI it's 51 pages!) And you can also view the signed lease amendment. Please submit a CORA request if you'd like additional information about this lease.

Tell us what you think.

We welcome comments from our agriculture lessees regarding the Public Access Program (PAP). Please use the incident report form to inform us about issues that have occurred on your leased land.   

Likewise, if you are a member of the public who wishes to make a comment about the PAP, please use our general comment form.

Public Access Program Expansion for the 2021 Hunting Season

The Public Access Program is expanding for the 2021 hunting season as part of a multi-year commitment to make more trust land publicly accessible. Read more about the expansion. 

More than 200,000 acres are being considered for enrollment into the PAP effective fall 2021. View a map of these properties. Our Commissioners will vote on these nominated properties at a spring board meeting, likely the March 2021 meeting. View the meeting calendar for the most up-to-date information.

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Rules and regulations

Approximately 850,000 acres of trust lands are leased by Federal, State, and local government agencies to allow some level of public recreation. On trust land properties leased for public recreation, users must abide by all applicable federal, state and local laws, and follow site specific rules and regulations set by the State Land Board and the managing lessee/partner. Failure to abide by these rules may result in temporary or permanent closure to future public use. Don’t jeopardize access for responsible users by ignoring rules and regulations.

Trust lands are working lands

All trust lands are managed to provide financial support to important public institutions, primarily K-12 public education. As such, they are (almost always)  leased for revenue generating purposes such as livestock grazing, oil/gas development, timber management, tower sites, renewable energy production, or commercial operations. If you are using trust land where public access is allowed, please be respectful of other authorized uses and help maintain property resources. 

Properties allowing public access

By the numbers:

  • 2.8 million acres of trust land in Colorado earns revenue for public schools.
  • 98% of trust land is leased for agriculture.
  • 38% is leased for recreation.
    • 770,000 acres of trust land enrolled in the Public Access Program, which provided seasonal and limited access to trust land to sportsmen and anglers.
    • 300,000 acres of trust land is leased for private recreation, which may or may not be open to the public for a fee depending on the private outfitter.  

Below is a select list of leases that allow public recreation on trust lands. Please see lessee/partner’s website for specific rules and regulations:

 

Federal

 

North Sand Hills OHV Area, Jackson County

  • Trust Land Acres: 400
  • Lessee/Partner: Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Cooperative Management Agreement
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: Seasonal camping and off-road motor vehicle use

Zapata Falls, Alamosa County

  • Lessee/Partner: Bureau of Land Management
  • Trust Land Acres: 600
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Memorandum of Understanding
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: Public hiking access to scenic waterfall

 

State

 

Public Access Program, Statewide

  • Lessee/Partner: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Trust Land Acres: 770,000
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Long-term limited use lease
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: Seasonal hunting and fishing access on enrolled properties.  Unless posted on property, all other recreational uses are prohibited. 

State Forest State Park, Jackson County

  • Lessee/Partner: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Trust Land Acres: 71,000
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Long-term public recreation lease
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: Year-round public recreation.

 

Local

 

Black Forest Section 16 Trail

  • Lessee/Partner: El Paso County Open Space
  • Trust Land Acres: 90
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Public recreation lease
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: Public hiking, biking, and equestrian use on gravel trail

Bald Mountain and Heil Valley Ranch

  • Lessee/Partner: Boulder County Open Space
  • Trust Land Acres: 700
  • Lease/Agreement Type: Public recreation lease
  • Recreational Uses Allowed: non-motorized recreation including hiking and mountain biking

Ownership of adjacent land

Realtor’s frequently list offerings as adjacent to “state land, public open space, or conserved property,” thereby leading potential buyers to assume that trust lands are public lands open for all types of public recreation. This is misleading. As described above, you must have a permit or lease from the State Land Board to use trust lands, or the property must be part of a government lease that allows public recreation.

Q&A

Not all trust lands allow public recreation. Per Colorado law (C.R.S. 36-1-112), trust lands are closed to all entry or use unless prior written permission has been obtained from the State Land Board. Additionally, hunting, fishing, or trapping on trust lands without the State Land Board’s permission is illegal (C.R.S. 33-6-116). Violators are subject to penalties and fines, and if wildlife related, may include the loss of hunting and fishing privileges. Trust lands are held in a trust to support K-12 public education and other specific state institutions; all uses require a lease or permit from the State Land Board. Approximately 400,000 acres of trust lands are leased for private recreational use (e.g. private hunting, horseback riding, etc). Click here for more information on private recreational leases.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy provides resources about the history of trust land in America. Excepted from the Lincoln Institute:

"State trust lands are a phenomenon that dates back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1785. With this ordinance, the U.S. Congress established a policy of granting land to states when they entered the Union as an asset to generate funding to support the public education system, a fundamental state responsibility. Starting with Ohio in 1785 and ending with Arizona and New Mexico in 1910, each new state received a set of federal lands that, under federal enabling legislation and the corresponding state constitution, were to be held in trust for the benefit of the public schools. The trust mandates established by the U.S. Congress and the states are clear: to generate revenue to support the public schools and other institutions. In some cases there are other minor institutional beneficiaries as well, but the public schools (K–12) are by far the largest beneficiary throughout the state trust land system. That singularity of purpose continues today and distinguishes state trust lands and the state programs that administer them from other types of public lands."  

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) leases 770,000 acres of state trust land to provide access for public sportsmen (see Public Access Program below).  Please contact your local CPW office for more information.  All other lands are closed to public use.

Sportsmen access to 770,00 acres of state trust land is made possible through the Public Access Program (PAP), a lease agreement between the State Land Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Access is generally limited to big game hunting during fall seasons, but can be different depending on individual property conditions and sportsmen opportunities. Signs located at each property provide greater detail on rules and regulations. Sportsmen must be respectful of other visitors, permit holders, and authorized uses on state trust land. Violation of any rules, regulations, and restrictions may result in legal action and/or fines. Click here to find out more about the PAP. For specific information on where you can hunt or not, please visit the Colorado Hunting Atlas web page.

We welcome comments from our agriculture lessees regarding the Public Access Program (PAP). Please use the incident report form to inform us about issues that have occurred on your leased land.  

Requests for additional information and questions may be submitted by email or by phone:

Abraham Medina – Recreation Program Manager
303-866-3454  x 3342
abraham.medina@state.co.us