Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve
You’d be forgiven for assuming that between the cozy mountain town and the snow-packed slopes, there isn’t much else in Breck. But you’d be wrong. Between the town and the mountains — more precisely, between the Gold Rush Parking Lot and Peak 8 — is one of the country’s most matchless wildlife preserves.
Cucumber Gulch is a 188-acre open space preserve less than a mile from Breckenridge’s downtown Main Street. I asked Scott Reid and Heide Andersen, both Open Space and Trails planners for the town of Breckenridge, why Cucumber Gulch was so important. Andersen said, simply, “If you go there, you’ll know.”
The preserve has 77 acres of wetlands, which are uncommon enough in the West and even rarer at Breckenridge’s considerable altitude of almost 10,000 feet. “They have fen wetlands in there, which are really unique. They’re pretty much irreplaceable because they take 10,000 years to form,” Andersen said. “They’re actually groundwater-fed wetlands.”
“It’s biologically more diverse than anything else around here,” she added. “There’s this area with several different ecotypes in it. It’s this little sanctuary and it’s only a mile from town, which makes it pretty special.”
The preserve is a place of unparalleled natural beauty that provides homes for deer, elk, beaver, the state-endangered boreal toad and the occasional moose. “When you’re in it, other than seeing the gondola overhead, you’d never know that you were that close to people. Unless the ski area happens to be booming music at the half-pipe,” Andersen said.
The free BreckConnect gondola from town to the ski areas at Peak 7 and Peak 8 is more than a reminder that civilization is a nine-iron away: it’s the best way to get a great overhead view of Cucumber Gulch.
But a bird’s-eye view (the Gulch boasts more than 47 species of birds, by the way) isn’t the only way to experience the beauty of the preserve. “You can go in there on snowshoes or Nordic skis and actually explore the site in the wintertime,” Reid said. “In the summertime the trails through there are fantastic.” Nature classes offer visitors a hands-on experience and guided tours through Cucumber Gulch.
Both Andersen and Reid stressed that if you do explore the area on your own (which they strongly encouraged), please be respectful of the environment’s distinctive position as a rare and protected place. Cucumber Gulch’s proximity to so many people is a constant challenge to its preservation.
“People tend to go off trail,” Reid said. “They go into the gulch so often that they can not only injure a specific animal like a boreal toad, they’re also making it less desirable for other animals to go there because it’s not as secluded as they’re seeking.”
“A couple weeks ago we had families in there that were trying to hunt down the moose that was in the middle of Cucumber with their dogs,” Andersen said.
“We have dogs in there — that’s one of the biggest issues we have,” Reid said. Last summer two boreal toads were discovered in Cucumber Gulch; one was killed by a dog. “People love their dogs and dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere (in Breckenridge). But there’s one spot where we’re saying dogs aren’t allowed.”
“It went for so long being open to everything and it was getting trashed. This area is really special,” Andersen said, “and we have to reduce these impacts to the area for the future.”
So next time you’re in Breck, check out Colorado’s high-altitude beaver complex, moose habitat, peat-forming fen wetland and state-endangered boreal toad reintroduction site. Just leave your dog at home.
If You Go
Cucumber Gulch is in Breckenridge at the base of Peak 8.
Breckenridge Nordic Center, 1200 Ski Hill Road, Breckenridge, Colo. 80424; (970) 453-6855; www.breckenridgenordic.com