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Town of Castle Rock acquires Colorado's Lost Canyon Ranch and historic Franktown Cave

Castle Rock acquires Lost Canyon Ranch and historic Franktown Cave
Castle Rock acquires Lost Canyon Ranch and historic Franktown Cave 02:51

The Town of Castle Rock has purchased a 681-acre parcel of land known as Lost Canyon Ranch. The land is located next to Castlewood Canyon State Park and is the largest one-time acquisition of open space in the town's history.

Thousands of years ago, prehistoric people lived on what today is known as Lost Canyon Ranch.

The Town of Castle Rock has acquired Lost Canyon Ranch and historic Franktown Cave. CBS

"The Palmer Divide is really an incredibly rich area. A lot of people lived here because of the abundant natural resources," said archaeologist Kevin Gilmore.

In the 1940s, the University of Denver excavated a rock alcove on the property known as "The Franktown Cave," uncovering evidence of inhabitants from over 8,000 years ago.

"It's a phenomenal archive of information that doesn't really exist anywhere else in this part of the state," said Gilmore.

Gilmore says dry conditions in the cave caused perishable artifacts to be uniquely well preserved.

"There are fiber artifacts, there's cordage, there are sandals dating 4,500 years ago, there's hide, there are baskets, there are moccasins. That actually offers a very narrow window into the lifeways of prehistoric people," said Gilmore.

Gilmore is working to learn more about those people using radiocarbon dating and cultural analysis.

"The earlier occupation by the people who produced the sandals happened right before the arrival of the people from the northern plains," said Gilmore, "perhaps the people who lived in Franktown cave at that time were pushed out and maybe they left and that's what gave the people form the northern plains the opportunity to occupy the area."

Thousands of years ago, prehistoric people lived on what today is known as Lost Canyon Ranch. CBS

His research suggests the cave was occupied by various peoples from the Early Archaic period, starting in 6400 B.C., to the Proto-Historic period, ending in 1860 A.D. He believes the ancestors of the Apache people lived in the cave starting around 1150 A.D.

"The later occupation, which is about 700-800 years ago, was by proto-Apache people," said Gilmore.

Because of vandalism and poor excavations, Gilmore says there's still a lot to learn. As he investigates the cave's prehistoric inhabitants, modern neighbors will soon have access to the nearby land.

"We will be looking at getting recreation access for the general public for this property," said Jeff Brauer, director of parks and recreation for the Town of Castle Rock.

Castle Rock is planning how to do so while preserving the site.

"We'll make sure that they have an opportunity to view the cave whether we do that through visuals or actual onsite; we haven't determined that yet," said Brauer.

For now, the town warns that trying to visit the cave is both illegal and dangerous. There are safety concerns related to access, falling rocks, and wildlife.

"There are plenty of opportunities for folks to find some challenges out there on the property," said Brauer.

The master planning process to determine how the public will have access to this land will take about 18 months. The public is invited to attend meetings and provide input. Community members can sign up for updates on the process here:

Castle Rock says the total cost of the property was $15,009,432. It was purchased from the family of Waldo Morris. Douglas County provided $5.5 million from the Open Space, Parks and Historic Resources sales and use tax toward the acquisition. Great Outdoors Colorado provided the Town with a $3 million Centennial Program award toward the purchase. It's the largest funding amount from GOCO for any project in Town history. The Conservation Fund negotiated the purchase and provided $200,000, from a private donation. Castle Rock paid the remaining amount.

The Douglas Land Conservancy holds the conservation easement on the property.

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