Dan grew up in Minneapolis but his dad took him and his siblings on annual vacations to Montana to hunt and fish -- "a sojourn we dubbed 'Mecca,' which drew me to the West," he explained. He moved to Colorado from Washington, DC in 1976 to open the Rocky Mountain Field Office for The Nature Conservancy, the leading conservation organization in the world then and now.
"Because I was working for The Nature Conservancy, Hank Alderfer found me and wanted to get me interested in the area. I spent an afternoon on horseback with Hank riding Alderfer Three Sisters [now known as Alderfer Three Sisters Open Space Park] and then Upper-Bear, and I was sold. I relocated to Evergreen 6 months after arriving in Colorado. I still live in Hiwan Hills."
Dan was one of the founders of the Mountain Area Land Trust (MALT) in 1992. MALT is responsible for the conservation of approximately 15,000 acres in the area to date with Noble Meadow and the Beaver Brook Watershed being the most widely known projects.
Protecting the best of Evergreen
"Just as now, when I first got here in 1976, people wanted to protect the best of Evergreen," Dan recalls. "TENAS [The Evergreen Naturalists Audubon Society] was sort of the focal point, and the Brockners were the point people. Polly and Walt Phillips, Hank, Peg Hayden, John Ellis, the Sternbergs, lots of others. I remember Sylvia Brockner pushing for an effort to get the county to buy Lair O’ the Bear. [Jefferson County Open Space was formed in 1972 to acquire and protect land for use as parks.] It was in foreclosure and controlled by some bank. We made a few rushes at the owners, but could never put a deal together enough to get Jeffco Open Space to purchase it. Of course, several years later, they did it on their own. Hank took the lead in getting the County to buy his family place – Three Sisters. During this same period – early 80’s, Colorado Open Lands put together a well-publicized deal to preserve Evans Ranch.
"When the people lead, the leaders follow"
"Even though Jeffco Open Space had invested significantly in the mountain area, there was a sense of urgency that Evergreen was changing fast and that we needed to protect more of what made the place unique. The lack of a local government made the County the only game in town, and the general feeling was Evergreen was an afterthought. In 1992 Linda Williams (Rockwell), decided Evergreen needed to think about forming a land trust. She put an announcement in the Courier inviting people to a meeting at Hiwan Homestead to explore the idea. I was reluctant to go. I had left The Conservancy and had a company doing conservation deals across the West. I was hesitant to get involved in local stuff. But many of us had been frustrated with Jeffco Open Space. I’d been on the founding board of a very successful land trust in Gunnison believed in what land trusts could do, and I loved Evergreen. I had this sense that citizen action can trump government action, and when the people lead, the leaders follow. MALT ultimately was my biggest reinforcement for that belief.
Creating the land trust
"Of course the Brockners came to the meeting, and Linda and Jerry Dahl.... The Trust for Public Land sent a staffer to give us advice. Not surprisingly, you put together a room full of like-minded people, and they come out in agreement. We decided to form a land trust. Sylvia proposed Mountain Area Land Trust as the name. Jerry drew up some by-laws, and Sylvia, Dave Scruby, Linda Dahl and I were the first Board. I remember telling the group it was important that we remain non-partisan. Linda Williams, who at the time was Chair of the Jeffco Democrats, assumed I was addressing that remark to her, and declined to come on the Board, even though the whole thing was her idea. It was a stupid comment on my part, and a generous gesture on hers. MALT had begun."
[Editorial note: MALT has maintained a policy of being nonpartisan and owes its successes to an ability to work well with people of varying political beliefs.]
Noble Meadow opportunity
"We consciously decided to move slow: recruit some more people; talk to the Park and Rec Board; figure out our relationship with TENAS; make a brochure; maybe encourage some landowners to consider a land donation. Then Noble Meadow hit."
[Editorial note: Noble Meadow consisted of 408 acres along Squaw Pass Road, 117 acres of which has been annexed into what is currently known as Elk Meadow. Ten acres were acquired by Evergreen Park and Recreation District (EPRD) for the Buchanan Recreation Center. Another 251 acres were preserved in perpetuity through a private conservation easement.]
"Over a year of negotiations between the Jefferson County Open Space and the landowner had fallen apart, acrimoniously. It was such a signature piece of property for Evergreen, essentially the gateway to town, and now it was in peril. Tandy, Linda Dahl and I met with John Thompson, the owner, who was very cordial, but also very skeptical that there was any way to salvage a deal. After the meeting with John, we had lunch at the Whippletree, and I remember we decided that John hadn’t thrown us out, so we might as well keep going. We met with the County, who said the deal was dead, and they were moving on. It didn’t look good, but the MALT board decided there was no choice but to try to save Noble Meadow. So much for starting slow.
Evergreen's finest hour
[Editorial note: In 1994 when MALT held a community-wide Save Noble Meadow campaign to protect it from development, 63 acres were zoned for 232 homes to be built with additional acreage zoned for commercial development. There had been numerous efforts to protect this land from development in years prior, but none had the permanency achieved in 1994. Jefferson County Open Space purchased a portion for $1.4 million; taxpayers in the Evergreen Park and Recreation District approved a $700,000 bond with 96% voter approval; and the remaining $200,000 was raised in private donations from the community all within a 5-month period.]
"I’ve been involved with land conservation deals for more than 30 years in over a dozen states. But in many ways, I’ve never seen anything like Noble Meadow. The people of Evergreen willed it to happen. The campaign to sway the County Commissioners, the poster contest in all the schools ... the merchants and restaurants, the Courier and Upbeat, the service organizations all climbing on board, Linda Kirkpatrick and Chuck Hazelrigg leading the fundraising, the 96% yes vote at the EPRD bond election. Without a doubt, since I’ve been here, it was Evergreen’s finest hour. The people led.
Protecting the Beaver Brook Watershed
"Beaver Brook Watershed was a completely different kind of deal. 6,000 acres of remote land 30 minutes from Denver on the Clear Creek-Jeffco County line. Places like that don’t exist anymore. The City of Golden called MALT saying they wanted to explore the future of the Watershed.
"Our early meetings were over at Mt. Vernon. The water for Mt. Vernon came from Beaver Brook, and they had a strong vested interest in the future of the Watershed. Bud Simon and Mike Strunk, ironically both gone now, did great work on drafting some limited development alternatives that would allow some development, but save the bulk of the Watershed. We were talking about a $4-6 million price with the City, and trying to piece together some money and a plan to make it happen. Then Golden hired a real estate broker to advise them, and things started to go south. The City decided to hire an appraiser, and I managed to convince them to go with a guy I knew well. At the end of the day, much to my horror, he came up with a $20 million price tag. $20 million really got Golden’s attention, and they started focusing on selling the property for development to raise the money. Our negotiations got more and more strained.
"We found some allies in a local Golden citizen’s group that opposed City development of the property. Meanwhile a local group had formed from the homeowners groups around the Watershed to also oppose Golden’s development and/or sale. They were very vocal. Things were heating up. Eventually the Golden City Council held a hearing to discuss selling the property. The opposition showed up, but the Council had limited public comments to two minutes each to control the meeting. I attended with Bob Poirot, who was Chair of the Clear Creek County Commissioners (the property was in Clear Creek). Bob got up to speak, and the mayor cut him off after two minutes. I’ll never forget Bob’s comment when he came back to the seat next to me. He said “wait until they have to come to hearings in Clear Creek. I’m going to give them all the time they want to explain themselves.”
"Meanwhile, the negotiations were all brinksmanship. Mel Andrew, Greg Vallin and I would have these meetings with the City staff in which we’d exchange awkward pleasantries for 5 minutes, then accuse each other of being unreasonable for the next 45, and adjourn. My relationship got so hostile with them that Mel became the backdoor negotiator. I was the bad cop, he was the one they could talk with.
The National Forest Service gets involved
"Then Cory Wong and Deb Ryan of the Clear Creek District of the Forest Service told us they might be interested in acquiring the land. Suddenly, the world changed. We had a buyer, potentially with money. Mel started talking with Congressman Udall’s staff about a potential appropriation to the Forest Service. Evergreen resident Pete Jacobson, who had been on Senator Allard’s staff, interceded. He introduced us to the Allard people and Congressman Beauprez. They were encouraging. Nevertheless, $20 million would be the biggest Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriation ever received in Colorado.
"Finally, Congressman Tom Tancredo decided this should happen. I know what you’re thinking, Tom Tancredo? But his district included Golden, and Golden wanted this, and so did Congressman Tancredo. The melodrama was not over, but of course, in the end it happened. We had to finesse a deal where the County would approve some development on the property to support the appraised value so that the whole deal would come together. We had a come-to-Jesus meeting with the City of Golden. We’d agree to support a zoning change proposal for them, which would verify the appraised value, if they gave MALT an option to purchase the property so we could buy it and re-sell it to the Forest Service. When it came time for the County hearing, the room was packed. Some of the local groups felt that the Commissioners should stonewall the City proposal, and keep fighting. It was one of the few times in my career I’ve been on the opposite side from local enviro’s. The County approved the rezoning, MALT took an option on the property, and eventually Congress appropriated the funds for Forest Service purchase of the property. As an essential part of the deal, Great Outdoors Colorado agreed to loan the County $4 million to complete the transaction. A fascinating transaction. And a great Evergreen property preserved forever."
In 1997 Dan became president of Colorado Open Lands, a statewide conservation organization that works closely with local land trusts such as MALT. Of the more than 200,000 acres protected statewide, some projects in the Evergreen area include: the 2,500-acre Evans Ranch at the end of Upper Bear Creek Road, the Johnhill Ranch on Upper Bear Creek Road, Anna Erickson's property along North Turkey Creek Road, and the Marshner Ranch near Marshdale.
Just as Mayor Speer and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead are credited with creating the Denver Mountain Parks system that has defined Evergreen since the early 1900s, preserving the natural character of Evergreen since 1992 can be attributed in one way, shape, or form to Dan Pike.
Dan has served on the Board of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, the Gunnison Ranchland Legacy (a local land trust) and three Governor's Commissions. He was the first chair of the Conservation easement Oversight Commission, created by the legislature in 2009 to advise the State on administration of the conservation easement program.
Equally rewarding, Dan has worked with kids in Evergreen, coaching 18 youth baseball, football, and girls' basketball teams.