Denver sues church for access to new mountain park

Axton Ranch, a 448-acre area that was donated to Denver in 2021, is accessible only by the private Camp Eden Road. (Denver Parks & Recreation)

The City of Denver is threatening to use eminent domain against a local church that has refused to sell it access to the only road leading into its new mountain park.

In 2021, the Axton family donated its 448-acre ranch to Denver for use as the city’s 23rd mountain park and its first new mountain park since 1939. The land is in far northern Jefferson and Gilpin counties, just south of Boulder County. It includes expansive meadows, ponds, a creek and one slice of a historic trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

What the city did not acquire is access to the only road leading to the property.

That was not for lack of trying, according to city lawyers. Six months before the Axton family donated its spacious ranch, the city contacted Beth Eden Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, which owns Camp Eden Road. But the ensuing negotiations failed time and again.

“Despite over a year of communicating about an easement and many months negotiating the terms of an easement, the two parties were unable to reach an agreement,” Denver wrote in an eminent domain lawsuit Friday. “Therefore, Denver does not have access to Axton Ranch.”


Denver Botanic Gardens conducted a study of the flowers at Axton Ranch. (Denver Parks & Recreation)

The city made offers on May 31 and again July 3, without success. Its lawsuit does not say how much money it offered, and city spokespeople refused to answer that question Tuesday. But the city’s court documents claim that the easement’s fair market value is $9,735.

“Denver requires access to Axton Ranch promptly to manage and protect its property, and to ultimately allow for public access and enjoyment of Axton Ranch,” the city claims.

In addition to Axton Ranch, Camp Eden Road also leads to its namesake: Camp Eden.

The Christian camp has belonged to Beth Eden since 1944, when the church bought it from what was then Denver Bible Institute and is now Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. The camp is made up of nine buildings on 161 acres, according to its website.

Beth Eden itself dates back to 1893, when it opened in the Highlands neighborhood. It is now at the corner of 26th and Wadsworth, west of Denver city limits. Reached by phone Tuesday, its senior pastor, Jason Pilchard, declined to discuss the eminent domain lawsuit.

Denver is asking Jefferson County District Court Judge Jason Carrithers to determine the value of the church’s easement, require the city to pay that amount to Beth Eden, and then give the city access to Camp Eden Road. A hearing on the matter has not been scheduled.

The city’s plans for Axton Ranch Mountain Park have met resistance from neighbors in that rural area for years. A group of residents calling itself Preserve Coal Creek Canyon warned in 2021 that the park will bring traffic, crime and vagrants to the area, lowering property values. City officials heard similar concerns during a public hearing in summer 2021.

Assistant City Attorney Ed Gorman represents Denver in its eminent domain case.

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