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Colorado’s Mount Democrat sold to Conservation Fund in ‘huge step forward’ for public access

Meanwhile, advocates continue the fight to protect landowners amid public-access liability concerns.
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Posted at 1:05 PM, Sep 21, 2023

The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit that works to protect U.S. land and water, has acquired about 300 acres of land on Mount Democrat, a 14,000-foot peak in the Mosquito Range near Alma and part of the popular DeCaLiBron Loop.

The acreage, which includes the Kite Lake Trailhead as well as land along Mount Democrat Trail and the mountain’s peak, had belonged to John Reiber, who owns mining land across multiple 14ers. The Conservation Fund plans to convey the land to the U.S. Forest Service later this year, according to a news release from the nonprofit.

The Conservation Fund boasted Thursday’s acquisition as a win for public access.

“Colorado 14ers are a national treasure and we are thrilled to protect Mount Democrat,” Kelly Ingebritson, the Colorado project manager at The Conservation Fund, said in the release. “Buying this majestic peak is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a model for how conservation can solve America’s recreational access issues and benefit local communities.”

Reiber and his land, which he bought for mining purposes, have been part of a fight to protect landowners from liability. He and other advocates have pushed for change to the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (CRUS), which encourages landowners to make their land available for recreational use by the public. Some say, however, current law doesn’t go far enough to protect landowners from liability.

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John Reiber

SB23-103, which aimed to grant that protection, failed in the last legislative session.

Reiber had closed access to his land over liability concerts multiple times, including as recently as March of this year. He reopened it this summer with an innovative QR-code based waiver system in which recreators would agree not to sue if they were injured on Reiber’s property.

Anneliese Steel, chair of the Fix CRUS Coalition that aims to amend the statute, at the time called the new system “cumbersome” and said it was only a temporary solution that came amid “significant public pressure” to reopen the trails.

Even after the sale of the Mount Democrat land, Fix CRUS – a nonprofit made up of more than three-dozen members – said the fight for landowner protection continues.

"The acquisition of Mount Democrat marks a huge step forward for everyone who loves Colorado's outdoors,” Steele said in a statement Wednesday. “However, the sale is also a stark reminder that our work isn't done. We need to continue building momentum to strengthen Colorado's Recreational Use Statute for the sake of all our 14ers, trails, and the communities that rely on them."

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Reiber told Denver7 back in July that an update to CRUS aimed at reducing landowner liability is “best for the state of Colorado” and those who enjoy its outdoors.

“This isn't just me. It's not just a 14ers issue,” he said at the time. “It's people that own land that people may choose to recreate on. What is their liability if someone gets hurt on their ground? That's truly the issue, whether it's a river, whether it's an area where people ride horses. There's all kinds of different kinds of recreation that people want to enjoy.”

Reiber still owns property that provides access to Mount Lincoln as well as land on Mount Bross – which are part of the DeCaLiBron Loop, along with Mount Democrat and Mount Cameron – and says he will close access to that land if state law is not amended.

In the meantime, people who sign the liability waiver can still access it.

The waiver is available here. Cell service is usually poor in the area, so it's recommended to sign the waiver ahead of time.

Two 14ers on the DeCaLiBron Loop to reopen Friday; hikers must sign electronic waiver


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