Jim Bensberg was born in a house in the Cheyenne Cañon area some 60 years ago, and now lives in his childhood home, which overlooks Cheyenne Creek. So he takes any change to the area personally.
Bensberg, an El Paso County commissioner from 2003 to 2011, is in a snit over a March 12 city Park and Recreation Advisory Board decision that allows construction of a half-mile trail on city park land to be used by guests of The Broadmoor. The trail, to be open to the public as well as guests, extends west from the resort along Penrose Avenue, then parallels Mesa Avenue to Seven Falls, a tourist attraction owned by The Broadmoor, which opens June 22 after renovations.
After Bensberg appealed in late March, the appeal was rejected because it wasn't filed within the 10-day appeal period. Because the project doesn't require City Council approval, there's nothing to stop it. And that's a good thing, according to the city, two citizens groups and The Broadmoor, because the public will get a new trail at the resort's expense.
"This has been something that has been well received by the individuals that live there, by the city parks service, by the Friends of North Cheyenne Cañon," says Jack Damioli, CEO of The Broadmoor, which will not only fund construction but also will maintain the trail. The city will take bids for construction and do the building.
The trail project is another effort by The Broadmoor to expand its amenities by using public land. The hotel has secured a 20-year agreement with El Paso County for use of Bear Creek Regional Park trails for horse rides. The resort's rezoning application for a stable ("Rein check," News, March 11) is pending with the city.
The Cheyenne Cañon trail plan calls for a 36-inch-wide, lighted path to follow along the now-abandoned 150-year-old Dixon Ditch that once irrigated ranch land and apple orchards where the Penrose House now stands.
In its report to the Parks Board, city staff notes the Cheyenne Cañon area draws lots of visitors but has a limited number of formal trails. The new trail will allow hikers and cyclists to avoid Mesa Avenue, will offer a new trail in that area with historical signage, and will complete a one-mile trail loop to and from the Starsmore Discovery Center, the report said, adding that lighting "will focus light directly onto the trail surface to minimize light spill."
Charles Rollman, who lives in the Skyway area, calls the project an "annexation" of part of Cheyenne Cañon Park by The Broadmoor in his March 26 letter to the resort and notes the lighted trail would "extend the tackiness of the illuminated Seven Falls area into public land."
"I'm just one of many who are annoyed by it," Rollman tells the Independent, adding the trail is another example of the hotel "ignoring the neighbors."
Bensberg, meanwhile, calls the project a "Disney-style trail" that's unnatural. "I just think what they want to do is inconsistent with the rural feel," Bensberg says. "My motto is, less is more."
Calling such criticism "unfair and not true," Damioli says, "We've been great neighbors, and always will be great neighbors. We want to provide the community a walking path, an opportunity to walk safely on Penrose and Mesa, and I don't think that's using public land in a bad way." He says the lighting plan hasn't been drafted yet, but describes the impact as "minimal."
Speaking on behalf of the project at the March 12 meeting were Bob Falcone, president of Friends of North Cheyenne Cañon (and community blogger for the Independent), and Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.
Bensberg also complains there was no notice given to the public prior to the Parks Board's "rubber-stamp" approval on March 12, though the meeting was posted in compliance with open meeting laws. After learning of the action, Bensberg says he was told by city staffers the decision couldn't be appealed. He later found instances in which others appealed Parks Board decisions, such as last fall when neighbors sought changes in a proposed disc golf course at Rampart Community Park and City Council referred it back to the board for reconsideration.
City spokeswoman Julie Smith acknowledges in an email the decision could be appealed. She adds that two Parks employees report having spoken with Bensberg on March 17, but don't recall discussing an appeal at that time.
Smith says City Clerk Sarah Johnson accepted Bensberg's appeal fee of $176 at his insistence but the money has since been returned, because his appeal "was not filed in a timely manner," as put in an April 1 letter to Bensberg.
The Broadmoor wants the trail built by mid-summer, but there are no guarantees, since, as Smith says, the project will be handled through the competitive bid process, like other city projects.