Loud residents and a quiet camp threaten Denver’s plans for new mountain park

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The entrance to Camp Eden at 11583 Camp Eden Road in Coal Creek Canyon. (Justin Wingerter/BusinessDen)

On a recent Monday morning, a half-dozen neighbors walked the gravel road that connects their homes in the foothills of Coal Creek Canyon, 40 miles northwest of downtown Denver.

Signs pinned to conifers along Camp Eden Road shouted “NO TRESPASSING — PRIVATE PROPERTY” and, more pointedly, “No Trespassing: We Have Guns and Shovels.”

“We live away from the city for a reason,” said one of the neighbors, Paula Furnace. “If I had known there would be a public park, we wouldn’t have bought land up here.”

As the public road dipped down and bent to the left, the church camp that gives it its name emerged into full view and the street became private while it cut through Camp Eden. The neighbors, with permission from the camp, walked on another quarter mile.

There the road dead-ends at Axton Ranch, a scenic 448 acres of wildlife and wildflowers that were accumulated over decades and then donated to the City of Denver with much fanfare in 2021. It is to be a local family’s legacy and the latest gem in the city’s collection of park land.

But first, Denver must contend with a thorny legal dispute over that short quarter mile of road between the entrance to Camp Eden and the entrance to Axton Ranch, along with a small but vocal group of locals whose concerns mirror those of the camp.

“The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few. This is our home and it makes me angry that Denver is not giving us respect,” said resident Norma Cassin. “To take a private road and say, ‘Eminent domain, we’re going to take it?’ Shame on you.”

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The entrance to Axton Ranch is on a private stretch of Camp Eden Road in rural Jefferson County. (Justin Wingerter/BusinessDen)


Axton Ranch was in the hands of the Axton family, who still live nearby, for several generations between 1954 and their donation in 2021. The property includes a trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps leading to two popular peaks. Neighbors have long hiked the ranch grounds with permission from Kathy Axton, the family’s 82-year-old matriarch.

“Because of her love for hiking and exploring, my mother stressed her desire to preserve the valuable CCC trail and make it accessible to everyone possible,” Annette Iszler, a daughter of Kathy Axton, told the Gilpin County Planning Commission in 2021. “Thus began our search to find an entity that would fulfill our parents’ wishes for the Axton Ranch.”

The Axtons initially looked to Gilpin and Jefferson counties — the ranch stretches into both — as well as the federal government to maintain the land and keep it away from developers. But, to the surprise and frustration of some neighbors, they decided to give it to Denver.

“This ensures that a strong, experienced entity will steward the land for the citizens of Colorado forever,” Alan Axton, a son of Kathy Axton, told the planning commission.

Speaking for the Axton family, Alan Axton declined to be interviewed about the dispute between Denver and Camp Eden but called Axton Ranch Mountain Park an “exciting project.”

“Sometimes the nonsense and selfishness is a little hard to wade through,” he said of critics.

Axton Ranch is a city “conservation area,” at least for now. That means access is limited to city staff who are surveying the area and school groups using it for educational purposes. Before it can be opened to the general public, there must be a public planning process.

Denver Parks and Recreation did not respond to questions about the city’s timeline for that.

On its website, the department said it “is committed to continuing to work with” governments in Coal Creek Canyon “and public and private stakeholders, which includes adjoining property owners and the surrounding community” to manage Axton Ranch Mountain Park.

A $100,000 offer

But all of that is on hold until the City of Denver can, by law or loot, acquire access to Camp Eden’s quarter-mile stretch of private road — the only road leading to Axton Ranch. The Axtons have a handshake agreement with the church that allows them to use it, neighbors say.

On May 31, Denver’s finance director sent a letter to Beth Eden Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, which owns Camp Eden. She offered $20,000 in exchange for public access to Camp Eden Road, according to a copy of her letter that BusinessDen obtained in an open records request.

On July 3, an assistant city attorney sent a second letter that contained what he called the city’s “LAST AND FINAL WRITTEN OFFER”: $100,000. Beth Eden turned that down too.

The church has not spoken publicly about its dispute with the city and politely denied interview requests. But earlier this month, it explained itself on a local Facebook page.

Beth Eden said it has sought assurances from Denver that the church will not be legally liable for accidents on its private road and that the city has a plan to police trespassing and other illegal activity in the area. But the city has not provided those assurances.

“So far, we still have not been informed what level of use Denver expects the park to have or how they think it will affect our ability to continue to provide a location for churches along the Front Range to get away from the busyness of every day,” its statement said.

“Until we have clear answers to those questions, we have little choice but to keep attempting to remove as much liability from the camp (and church) as possible and insist on as much restriction of use as possible,” it added.

For its part, the city wrote in a July 14 lawsuit that it has made good faith offers” to Beth Eden and must now acquire access through eminent domain “to begin developing and preparing Axton Ranch for use as a park” in accordance with the Axton family’s donation.

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Camp Eden, bottom left, is seen from above. The camp is made up of nine buildings on 161 acres. (Justin Wingerter/BusinessDen)


Neighbors of Camp Eden who have spent years sharing their concerns with the city say they were surprised to see Denver use such a forceful tactic on a quiet church camp.

“We know that invoking eminent domain is a legal right but it is disheartening to have all of this prior work go by the wayside,” said Susie Broderick, a resident of 31 years.

A trickle of Front Range denizens, erroneously believing that Axton Ranch is already a park, have made their way on occasion to Camp Eden Road and the private property that surrounds it. Some in Coal Creek Canyon have treated the guests politely, while others have called them “interlopers” and warned that gun ownership rates are high in the area.

“There has already been some vandalism up here and that’s with the few people driving here now. When it’s thousands of people, you could imagine,” said resident Joel Furnace.

“Fire is the biggest issue,” said Eric Telesmanich, who has lived next door to Camp Eden for 33 years. “Then it’s safety, security, traffic and trash.”

Some who were initially opposed to any park at Axton Ranch say they’ve softened their position and now support a conservation area that allows for school groups, or a tightly managed public park. None had a negative word to say about Kathy Axton and several described her donation as “noble” or “well-meaning,” even if they don’t trust the City of Denver with it.

Others, fearing an end to their quiet life in the foothills, have been less willing to mollify.

“We moved here with the idea of being in a quiet mountain area so that we don’t have to deal with city stuff,” said Cassin, “and with the crud that comes along with that.”

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