It is nature that beckons Patty Stein to walk the shores of Quail Lake, where, just last week, she had the unpleasant experience of watching a fisherman answer a different call from nature.
"We saw this fisherman go back down to the water, and it looked like, you know, what a man does," she recalls squeamishly.
To his credit, Stein says, the fisherman first tried a more socially accepted approach to relieving himself. But when the man rushed up to the public bathroom, a city parks employee told him it was closed for the season.
City budget cuts.
"I just think it's sort of ludicrous," Stein says. "I mean, there's people with kids there. I don't know why that has to be a problem they could cut something else."
Yet about 17 of 50 parks bathrooms are closing early this year, in parks like Quail Lake, Boulder and Bonforte. Port-o-potties are being removed from all parks except Memorial. Parks, Trail and Open Space manager Kurt Schroeder says that move, combined with shutting off sprinklers early, should save the city around $250,000 to help balance the 2008 city budget.
Turns out, privies are pricey.
"We probably spend about $13,000 a year on toilet paper," Schroeder says.
Schroeder's department also spends about $40,000 a year on renting port-o-potties. Another $11,000 on trash bags. Utilities for the permanent bathrooms cost about $4,000, while cleaning and maintaining them runs another $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Vandalism can add to those expenses.
Schroeder notes that most bathrooms normally close in later autumn anyway, to protect pipes from freezing (though a few heated bathrooms stay open year-round, and will continue to do so). Nevertheless, he says it's a shame to close rest rooms early, while the weather is warm and parks are crowded.
There was money earlier in 2008. The city originally gave Parks, Trails and Open Space more than $7.6 million. Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax revenues were predicted to bring more than $6.4 million by year's end. The Colorado Lottery's Conservation Trust Fund was expected to supply over $4 million to city parks, and an additional $2.6 million was just sitting in the account at the beginning of 2008.
Meanwhile, the city was free to apply for the Colorado Lottery's Great Outdoors Colorado grants and wound up raking in more than $2.6 million in grants earmarked for everything from the Section 16 purchase to building a universally acceptable playground.
Problem is, only city and Conservation Trust money can be used to maintain the city's older parks. And trust money comes with a few restrictions. It can't, for instance, be used to pay for renting port-o-potties.
Besides, TOPS manager Christian Lieber says, the trust money, like the city money, is gone or earmarked for other uses. Interestingly, the biggest chunk of trust money didn't end up going toward maintenance. It was used for capital projects everything from that fancy new skate park to more mundane responsibilities like replacing sprinkler systems, or putting new roofs on shelters.
What little is left in the account and isn't set aside as a bumper is being written into the 2009 city budget, to help mend the $23 million budget gap.
"There's a tremendous demand put on our Conservation Trust Fund," Lieber says.