Green hills with trees and shrubs.
Bartlett Mesa New Mexico Newly acquired property in New Mexico. © Brad Cory/TNC

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Increase Recreational Opportunities, Improve Your Health, Protect Wildlife

Acquisition builds on cross-border conservation and provides benefits for people and nature

Someday soon you can explore new trails, improve your health and support local economies with a visit to Raton, New Mexico, thanks to Mary Lou Kern and the combined efforts of Trust for Public Land (TPL) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

Kern is a second-generation rancher who believes in hard work, dotes on her daughter, engages with her community and just sold her 2,224-acre Bartlett Mesa Ranch property to TNC and TPL as step one in a planned effort to add the property to Sugarite Canyon State Park. Step two will be the eventual transfer to the state.

"Bartlett Mesa Ranch is a unique and beautiful property with deep historical significance to my family. The transfer of ownership to TPL and TNC is bittersweet, as this land will change purpose after decades of grazing cattle," says Mary Lou Kern, previous landowner. “I’m comforted in the assurance this special land will be preserved for future generations to enjoy and treasure.”

The City of Raton initiated the effort a few years ago. “Outdoor recreation is a priority for Raton’s economic sustainability efforts, and we are pleased to work with our partners," says Scott Berry, City Manager for Raton. "I’m excited the public will have the chance to experience the unique outdoor recreation opportunities of the northeast New Mexico high mesa country.”

Raton and Colfax County plan to work with the state to provide additional access, improving recreational opportunities that benefit the community’s health and economy.

“From start to finish, the Raton community has been thoughtful and engaged in their efforts to not only improve the physical health of their community but create economic growth opportunities through connecting people to nature,” said Patrick Gardner, Project Manager for Trust for Public Land. “We’re proud to have worked with The Nature Conservancy, and we’re hopeful this partnership can serve as a model across the country.”

Two people walking in a green field with flowers.
Two people standing in a grass field.
Looking above a lush tree canopy, with large rock outcroppings.
Two people walking away from the camera in vast grasslands.

The Bartlett Mesa Ranch is mostly high-elevation grasslands reaching 8,500 feet with seasonal wetlands and volcanic rock sprinkled throughout the property. There are dramatic clifftop views down into Sugarite Canyon and endless vistas across the mountains and plains across two states. It’s also home to incredible native wildlife including elk, mule deer, mountain lion and black bear. Many bird species live on or migrate through the area including mallards, redtail hawks and ravens.

The property sits at the intersection of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains and is part of a large, healthy natural area called the Southern High Plains. Spanning five states, the region includes more than 30 million acres of intact prairie grasslands, cliffs and canyons, forests and riparian corridors along rivers and streams with high natural resource value. Most of the region has been and continues to be privately owned and managed by families like the Kerns, who’ve chosen to pass that legacy and responsibility to the public for the benefit of future generations.

Bartlett Mesa Ranch sits just south of the Colorado state border near the recently created Fishers Peak State Park. TNC and TPL worked together on the development of that park and hope this will provide opportunities to better connect the two parks in the future. Cross-border connected parks are uncommon and could help support local economies with ecotourism dollars.

“When Trinidad, TNC, TPL and our partners launched the effort that created Fishers Peak State Park in southeast Colorado, community leaders in New Mexico reached out with an idea to mirror the effort across the border. Now the opportunity to expand Sugarite Canyon State Park and its important contribution to conservation and public access is one step closer,” added Matt Moorhead, Conservation Business & Partnership Development Advisor.

"We’re excited to be part of this project for many reasons,” added Terry Sullivan, TNC in New Mexico’s state director. “Developing solutions for people and nature is at the heart of our work. This collaboration also enables us to conserve a network of lands and waters across state boundaries to boost climate resilience, preserve biodiversity (all things nature) and support sustainable rural communities."

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.