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Brown is the new green 

An invitation to enjoy our (mostly dead or dying) parks

Welcome to our beautiful city. As you've no doubt heard, it was from atop our stunning, 14,110-foot Pikes Peak that Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to pen the timeless anthem "America the Beautiful."

We've got it all here: spacious skies, purple mountain majesty, amber waves of grain, fruited plains ... ah, wait a second on that last one. Unless our government's coughed up cash between the time I wrote this and the time you're reading this, you're probably noticing a lot of crusty brown grass and ailing trees in our city parks.

Guess some things do change, Katharine.

Really, it should come as no surprise that our parks are in poor health. In February, Colorado Springs became the nation's poster child for conservatism gone awry. News anchors, newspaper reporters and talk-show pundits all wagged their fingers at the Springs and proclaimed that this is what you get when you allow those anti-tax people to win; you get a financially strapped city with dead parks, darkened street lights and decimated bus service.

In response, some City Councilors, notably blogger Sean Paige, countered that our city's problems weren't simply the logical conclusion to a not-my-problem Libertarian ideology. Rather, they said, our budget crisis was just a run-of-the-mill result of an economic downturn. The city was targeted, they explained, because the press is a bunch of liberal commies. (Or something like that.)

Anyway, there was a lot of hollering, and Terry Sullivan, leader of our convention and visitors bureau, took on a look of panic that he didn't shake for weeks.

No replacing elms

Point is, the city's broke. And back in January, Council decided to forsake our parks rather than, say, lay off more cops or firefighters. So (unless they've since changed their minds), the grass is brown. Some of the trees will probably keel over soon. Those beautiful 100-year-old American elms in the medians of North Nevada Avenue are in particular peril since we aren't watering medians anymore.

Paul Butcher, city parks and recreation director, has been rather sullen about all the cutbacks, and the impending loss of those big elms — such a rare treat for our high desert city — has bothered him especially.

"If you lose a 100-year-old American Elm," he laments, "you've lost it. There is no replacement."

There's plenty of depression to go around in the parks department. We have 149 irrigated parks in this city, and just 14 are getting the full ration of water. Most of the rest are getting about half the usual amount.

Susan Davies, leader of the outdoors-advocating Trails and Open Space Coalition, tries to see the positive.

"Even with the budget cuts, our trails, open space and parks are still some of the best in the state," she says. "But if anyone can come up with a way to make it rain early and often this summer — we'll make you a lifetime member of the Trails and Open Space Coalition."

Pick your spots

Assuming this area doesn't suddenly turn into Seattle, here are a few tips for navigating our slightly crispy parks.

1. Go to the 14 locations that are watered: Goose Gossage, El Pomar, Leon Young, Memorial, Monument Valley, Coleman, Acacia, America the Beautiful, Bancroft, Alamo Square, Sky View, Cottonwood, Rampart, Four Diamonds and Nancy Lewis. They should actually be green. These favorites are also given all sorts of extras, like trash service and working bathrooms. (Alternately, go to one of our famous open-space parks like Red Rock Canyon, Garden of the Gods or Palmer Park, vegetated mostly by native plants and don't need watering, so they still look nice.)

2. If you go to our other parks, be prepared. You'll need a plastic bag, since these parks don't have trash service. Second, make sure you use the facilities ahead of time, because the bathrooms are closed. And from what we hear from our local readers, crouching behind a bush in a neighborhood park can lead to some embarrassing situations. Besides, if someone catches you in the act, it could be a sex offense. Now there's a creative way to ruin your vacation.

3. You may not want to go into the parks at night, because we've turned off a lot of our streetlights. Danger could be lurking around any dark corner — possibly from a criminal, but also maybe from shrubbery, a large rock, dog doo, or somebody's KFC bucket.

4. Lack of shade trees got you down? Look for water. There are some super-cool spray grounds around here. Or at least, there were. As I write, our pools and spray grounds are actually scheduled to close. But they may be saved by fundraisers. Assuming they're working, there is a whimsical spray ground downtown called the Uncle Wilber Fountain, one just southwest of downtown called the Julie Penrose Fountain, and one more in the southern portion of our city called Deerfield Hills Spray Ground. If all else fails, run through some unsuspecting homeowner's sprinkler.

5. Don't be a gloomy Gus. You could see our dying parks as a royal bummer or an opportunity. Take a few extra trash bags to pick up litter and teach your kids a little something about community service. Converse with your spouse about tax policy. Rat out a homeless person to the police for camping on public property.

Remember, like anything else, dead grass is what you make of it.

stanley@csindy.com

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