My Colorado: Saving Greenland
In her My Colorado essay, Sydney Macy shares her memories of a beloved piece of Colorado landscape, and reflects on the importance of preserving the state’s magnificent public spaces for all to enjoy.
I grew up on the outskirts of Denver, on the edge of my grandparents’ farm. My childhood home was just south of the city limits, surrounded by fields of alfalfa and dusty dirt roads lined with cottonwoods. My siblings and I had the run of the place. We would take off for the day to explore our property, ride bareback on horses across the endless expanse, and float in rubber tubes down the Highline Canal as it meandered on its way to water the Plains.
One of the best days of the year was when we got to play hookie and ride the Denver Zephyr to Colorado Springs. We would board at the Littleton station and make a mad dash to claim the coveted seats in the Vista Dome — an elevated car with no ceiling, just a giant bubble of glass. As the streamlined train pulled out, we were mesmerized by the lands that we witnessed through that clear dome.
Chugging south into Douglas County, we traveled through Castle Rock and entered a magical landscape of emerald grasslands, punctuated by prehistoric buttes and mesas. The train roared through the Greenland Ranch, labored up and over the Palmer Divide, and descended to the Springs. It was the early 1960s. Interstate 25 had not yet been constructed, and the population of Douglas County was only 5,000.
Ten years later, returning home from college for Christmas, I was glued to the window of an airplane, smiling and brimming with excitement. The day was classic Colorado: brilliant blue skies and glistening snow-drenched peaks. As we began our descent over the mountains, we dropped into a thick soup of brown smog choking Denver. Everything I knew had been swallowed by the dirty air. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. And I knew in that moment that my life’s work would be devoted to protecting my beloved home.
I was lucky and landed a dream job with The Nature Conservancy right out of college. For 40 years, I helped protect special lands across Colorado and the West. But the landscape I witnessed from the Zephyr had captured me, and I never gave up my dream of protecting that magnificent place — making sure it wasn’t filled with cul-de-sacs and shopping malls and office towers.
By 1995, Douglas County’s population had grown to 100,000, and today it is over 350,000 — one of the fastest-growing counties in America for over two decades. Over 85% of Colorado’s population now lives along Colorado’s Front Range, in an area defined by the I-25 highway.
After Colorado voters directed that lottery funds be earmarked for land conservation in 1992, I was able to focus on preserving the Greenland Ranch and the properties around it. By the year 2000, over 30,000 acres surrounding 12 miles of the interstate had been bought and protected, and thousands of acres have since been added. Denver and Colorado Springs will never grow together.
But our work is not done. 80,000 cars drive this stretch of I-25 every day. The traffic is usually stopped. The cars sit and idle. Most people don’t notice the preserved lands. They are on their phones, checking emails, sending texts and not paying attention.
And the trains that travel the tracks of my childhood now begin in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where 110 open train cars are identically loaded with coal, resembling a string of perfect black-mounded graves. The mile-long train is headed to coal-fired power plants to cool homes in the Southwest.
Our 21st century technology needs to match this exquisite landscape. We need clean, high-speed passenger trains to replace the coal cars, avoiding the gridlocked interstate and transporting our citizens rapidly to their destinations. The train might stop at Greenland, unchanged since my days on the Zephyr. The passengers could walk to the trailhead, hike through the deep green grass, and then continue their journey to the Springs.
Sydney Macy is a fourth-generation Coloradan who has devoted her life to protecting our state’s special places.
For the My Colorado essay collection, KUNC and Colorado Edition want to create a space to hear from each other and to share voices, thoughts and opinions on our Colorado experience. These short audio essays will focus on a specific topic. We welcome all Coloradans to submit their essays — whether you've lived here your whole life, or just moved to the state a week ago.