Philip S. Miller park in Castle Rock
. Promising to be a quite a jewel — completed in multiple phases with a huge budget — many of the planned amenities, including the ziplines, a kids playground and more weren't finished or even started on my first visit.
More than a year had passed before I made my most recent trip. The changes in the park are impressive. The Challenge Staircase, which resembles The Manitou Incline on a much smaller scale, was one of the few features to open with the park in 2014, along with t
he athletic fields and the Miller Athletic Center, which offers swimming, fitness and many other activities. The Challenge Staircase connects to 10-miles of trails leading around the park, most of which are open not only for hikers, but for cyclists as well. The new additions also include a large outdoor pavilion, an amphitheater, kids playground, and ponds.
Since my first visit, 10 ziplines crossing a total of 1.5 miles from one side of the park to the other have also been installed. The EPIC Adventure Tower, with a 42-foot climbing wall, controlled descent rappelling equiptment and even bungee jumping, is also new, as is the adjacent EPIC Sky Trek — what I can only describe as a massive, 5-level, all-in-one jungle gym and ropes course.
But, as mentioned earlier, Phillip S. Miller wasn't a cheap project. The $30 million price tag of this public park is near that of the entire Colorado Springs Parks Department budget ($37 million). The town was able to fund it by using not only local tax dollars, but grants, endowments, bonds and more. In fact, the demand for this park was such that it was deemed a budget priority for the town
. Although use of the trails is free to all, other parts of the park, such as the Athletic Center, do charge user fees.
Here is the beauty of the project: the ziplines, EPIC Tower and Sky Trek features are a product of a public-private partnership. These attractions, which also have user fees attached to them, were privately funded and operated by the same company. In return for the public land use, the town gets five-percent of the revenue the attractions generate.
This is what separates Castle Rock from the Colorado Springs and El Paso County Parks systems. While both the city and county rely heavily on tax money, grants and some user fees to operate, both systems have very few private partnerships. There are no EPIC Adventure Towers or Sky Treks or ziplines in any of the city and county parks. In fact, with the exception of some long established horse back riding enterprises, private businesses are virtually non-existent in our parks. Meanwhile, these kinds of attractions are being built on wholly-private land around Seven Falls, Manitou Springs, and the Royal Gorge, and proving to be quite successful.
What would the state of our city and county parks be if there had been enough foresight to engage in private partnerships to build our own epic attractions on carefully chosen park lands?
There's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears expended to find ways to raise the level of funding for Springs' local parks. While I believe that the amount of tax revenue our parks receive needs to increase, it's hard not to wonder what if both Colorado Springs and El Paso County followed Castle Rock's example to find more epic ways to diversify funding for parks.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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