Aurora, Botanic Gardens assume management of Plains Conservation Center; Voters to decide council raises

"Because I think the F-16s fly right over the edge of that pretty regularly and those prairie dogs do not complain at all," said Council Member Bob LeGare.

Plains Conservation Center

Experience the prairie at sunset and witness the diversity of wildlife that lives here. Discover the beauty - seen and unseen - of the high plains of Colorado. You are invited to join us around the campfire and roast marshmallows after the wagon ride.

Plains Conservation Center

Experience the prairie at sunset and witness the diversity of wildlife that lives here. Discover the beauty - seen and unseen - of the high plains of Colorado. You are invited to join us around the campfire and roast marshmallows after the wagon ride.

Plains Conservation Center

Experience the prairie at sunset and witness the diversity of wildlife that lives here. Discover the beauty - seen and unseen - of the high plains of Colorado. You are invited to join us around the campfire and roast marshmallows after the wagon ride.

Plains Conservation Center
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Inaugural sustainable food soiree a the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, featuring creations by chefs from Root Down, Linger, Cafe Bar, Panzano, Balisteri and Kaladi Coffee and PCC volunteers. Photo by Melody Parten

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Inaugural sustainable food soiree a the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, featuring creations by chefs from Root Down, Linger, Cafe Bar, Panzano, Balisteri and Kaladi Coffee and PCC volunteers. Photo by Melody Parten

Plains Conservation Center

A herd of Pronghorns bask in the sunset June 19 at the Plains Conservation Center. This Saturday, Colorado breweries, local food trucks and musicians will join the wildlife during the 10th annual Hops for Habitat fundraiser. The money earned will go towards the center’s main expansion project, known as the West Bijou, which will implement restorative grazing areas for bison herds in the area. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Plains Conservation Center

Kids learn about pronghorns during a sunset safari wagon ride June 19 at the Plains Conservation Center. This Saturday, Colorado breweries, local food trucks and musicians will join the wildlife at Plains Conservation Center for the 10th annual Hops for Habitat fundraiser. The money earned will go towards the center’s main expansion project, known as the West Bijou, which will implement restorative grazing areas for bison herds in the area. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Crossing the Plains: Tales of Determination, 1 p.m., May 12, Plains Conservation Center, 21901 E. Hampden Ave. Information: 303-693-3621 or plainscenter.org. Details: Staff and historical re-enactors from the Plains Conservation Center detail the everyday lives of black homesteaders who made their homes on the plains in the 1800s. The event includes lectures and displays by The Dearfield Re-enactors, a group working restore and preserve Deerfield, Colorado, an African American community established northeast of Denver in 1800s. Registration is required.

Naturalist Tour

A red-tailed hawk flies above the tree line Monday morning, Sept. 10 at the Plains Conservation Center. The "Walk With a Naturalist” event is scheduled for Sept. 15, from 9 to 11 a.m. It is a tour through the 1,000-acre Plains Conservation Center property on East Hampden Avenue that will feature telltale signs of a changing environment, as well as opportunities to bask in the final moments of summer. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Plains Conservation Center

A prairie dog pokes his head out of his underground home June 19 at the Plains Conservation Center. This Saturday, Colorado breweries, local food trucks and musicians will join the wildlife during the 10th annual Hops for Habitat fundraiser. The money earned will go towards the center’s main expansion project, known as the West Bijou, which will implement restorative grazing areas for bison herds in the area. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Naturalist Tour

A herd of pronghorn move along the horizon Monday morning, Sept. 10 at the Plains Conservation Center. The "Walk With a Naturalist” event is scheduled for Sept. 15, from 9 to 11 a.m. It is a tour through the 1,000-acre Plains Conservation Center property on East Hampden Avenue that will feature telltale signs of a changing environment, as well as opportunities to bask in the final moments of summer. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | The Plains Conservation Center, a protected swath of prairie in east Aurora, was freed from several longstanding property agreements at the Aurora City Council meeting Monday night, initiating the management transfer of roughly 1,100 acres to the city and Denver Botanic Gardens.

Despite funding woes, the prairie center continues to be an increasingly popular center for educational and cultural programs focusing on Colorado plains plant, animal and human life.

Aurora City Council unanimously agreed to sever three land agreements currently in place at the Plains Conservation Center site at 21901 E. Hampden Ave. Vaporizing those contracts now allows an eponymous nonprofit attached to the PCC, which had been helping manage the site for the past six years, to relinquish control of the area to the city.

The PCC nonprofit began powering down the East Hampden site late last year due to insufficient funding mechanisms, according to city documents. The city had been performing limited maintenance on the massive property, and the facility had entered into an agreement with Denver Botanic Gardens to continue offering educational programs to schoolchildren at the PCC. Those programs have been wildly successful with robust attendance since that agreement took effect, according to Pat Schuler, manager of open space and natural resources for the city.

“Our wish is to have it open like it used to be years ago, where it’s open seven days a week — whatever hours of operation we can staff … it would be open — and then the Botanic Gardens would continue to manage their school programming and any other community sort of programs they might want to offer,” Schuler said.

Going forward, the PCC nonprofit will shift its focus to the center’s West Bijou site south of Strasburg. Those nearly 8,000 acres were named the country’s 599th National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service last November. The PCC nonprofit may eventually hand its duties south of Strasburg to the Savory Institute, a grasslands management group, Schuler said. The area is already an accredited demonstration site in the Savory Network Hub, according to the PCC website.

The new management transfer at the East Hampden site was included in this year’s city budget, according to Schuler. The new management duties will incur about $35,000 per year in maintenance work and nearly $100,000 in staffing costs. Schuler said the city plans to hire one full-time ranger and two seasonal employees for the site.

Established as an education center in 1949, the Plains Conservation center is one of the only parcels of remnant prairie that has never been plowed in Colorado, according to Schuler.

“The Plains Conservation Center doesn’t come up much in conversation and so when an opportunity comes up, I think it’s helpful — particularly for the audience that’s viewing this that knows probably next to nothing about the Plains Conservation Center — that this particular piece of ground is literally larger than Central Park in New York City, in the city of Aurora,” Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It’s a pretty special place.”

Councilman Bob LeGare emphasized the PCC’s important location as a noise buffer for the nearby Buckley Air Force Base.

“Because I think the F-16s fly right over the edge of that pretty regularly and those prairie dogs do not complain at all,” he said.

Other highlights from Monday night’s council meetings:

  • City council members formally approved a ballot question set to appear in this year’s general election that will ask voters to approve a roughly 33 percent pay raise for the city’s politicos. For more on that, click here, here or here. Council members approved the measure on a 6-4 vote, with council members Marsha Berzins, Barb Cleland, Sally Mounier and Charlie Richardson voting against the measure.
  • City council gave their official blessing to Fernando Gray, City Manager Skip Noe’s pick to replace Mike Garcia as the city’s new fire chief. Click here for more on Gray.
  • Council members signed off on a plan to transfer more than $100,000 in NEXUS funds from the city’s former detox provider, Arapahoe House, to Aurora’s new drug and alcohol detox service provider, Aurora Mental Health. Arapahoe House announced late last year it would cease providing detox services in Aurora in 2017. Aurora Mental Health is expected to formally take on the new role by June at the latest.
  • The city agreed to recommend allocating about $17.8 million in private activity bonds for the construction of a new, 116-unit affordable housing development near East Alameda Avenue and South Chambers Road. The allocation will ultimately be up to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, but the city agreed to recommend that CHAFA grant the requesting developer, Gardner Capital, the city’s full bond dispersement. Gardner was the only group requesting such bonds this year.
  • Council members moved forward with a plan to create the city’s second-ever entertainment district near Southlands Shopping Center. The district, which still must be approved at a full council meeting in the future, would allow limited public drinking at the mall during certain events.