The land in Weld County tells a story.
It’s one of agricultural strength, told by the men and women who work on more than 4,000 farms. It’s one of energy as what’s underneath it powers the state and local economy. It’s a beneficial one as a growing population builds homes on it, travels on a county transportation system stretching 2,916 miles and enjoys its beauty from various recreational activities.
And nestled quietly behind the Weld County Southwest Services Complex in Firestone sits the Hokestra Trail (recently renamed The Weld Legacy Trail). Largely unnoticed until now, the soon-to-be-open trail serves as the latest example of how one plot of land has continually given back to residents.
Like the many pieces of land that have served farmers and ranchers, the story of the Hokestra property is rooted in Weld County’s rich agricultural history. Aerial shots in the 1940s showed that three families — the Adler, Slovek and Gould families — each owned farms on the property and worked the land raising various crops.
“About 40% of the property was pasture, and 50% was used to grow corn and other grains,” said Weld County Public Works Engineer Clay Kimmi, describing the Adler Farm where the Hokestra Trail now sits. “The other 10% was used to grow alfalfa.”
As the years progressed, the usage of the land shifted as well, transforming from strictly farmland to eventually gravel mining — the property was already a mine when Weld County purchased it in the ’70s. For many years, material mined from the property was used to repair county roads.
In the late ’90s, discussions began between Weld County Government, St. Vrain State Park, which sits just to the west, and several other municipalities about utilizing a portion of the land for recreation and including it as part of the St. Vrain Valley Trails and Open Lands Planning Project — a trail system connecting various communities. The Hokestra Trail was one segment of the project and provided and opportunity for the county to construct its first pedestrian trail.
“The intense regional cooperation, increasing development pressures, and active involvement of state parks, coupled with the resolve of five southwestern Weld County communities that make this area a special place, provide a firm foundation upon which to build a successful open land preservation project,” wrote former Weld County Commissioner Chair Dale Hall in a letter to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) in 1999. In August of that year, GOCO awarded a substantial grant to the county to begin planning the Hokestra Trail’s design. The trail was eventually constructed, and the Colorado Department of Transportation added a small section to the trail, extending it under Interstate 25 into St. Vrain State Park.
Outside of the few people who’ve participated in St. Vrain’s Bike Your Park Day in 2018 and 2019, the trail has remained closed to the public. While it may feel like the trail should’ve been opened years ago, the Hokestra property was still serving as an active gravel mine. After the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District (CCWCD) purchased the property in 2017, Weld County Public Works crews have been busy preparing the pits to go from supplying gravel to storing water.
“We were removing excess material to maximize the water storage,” Kimmi said, explaining the work done by Public Works crews over the past year to reclaim one of the pits for the CCWCD, which stretches 17.5 acres. “We were grading the slopes [of the pit] to the appropriate angle.” Kimmi also mentioned crews are reseeding the area as well as restoring vegetation.
While the CCWCD purchased the property, the county retained a Right-of-Way agreement for the Hokestra Trail, along with a desire to improve it so it could eventually be open to the public. It was a vision that took perseverance as a key safety element needed to be addressed.
“The trail was built at grade next to a reservoir and in times of flooding, especially near the reservoir’s spillway, the trail isn’t useable,” said Elizabeth Relford, Deputy Director of the Weld County Department of Public Works. “We wanted to deliver improvements that would improve the safety, usability and experience of everyone who uses that trail.”
To do that, Public Works engineers worked on designing a realignment of the trail that includes an 802-foot new section, which moves the trail away from the spillway. The trail even includes a new slightly elevated bridge, allowing water from the reservoir’s spillway to pass under the trail instead of flowing over it.
As the trail nears completion and will soon be open to the public, Weld County Engineer and Project Manager Hayley Balzano is pleased with the work of staff to deliver improvements to residents. She believes those efforts will pay off in allowing many to see a small portion of Weld County like they’ve never seen before.
“I’ve been to the site many times, and I think the way it’s structured may allow people to see new things, perhaps even more wildlife,” Balzano said. “It’s been really neat to see the development of this project and how it’s evolved.”
It’s the latest chapter in how Weld County’s ever-evolving land continues to serve residents.
By Baker Geist, Weld County Communications Specialist