On the West Side of Colorado Springs, even the unlikeliest of city-girl dreams can come true: You can ride a pony around the neighborhood.
Thirteen-year-old Kelsey McGinty's dream had been quashed in March, when the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department posted a sign in Promontory Point Open Space banning horseback riding there.
The horse-friendly neighborhood did not take the matter lightly.
"She was shattered," said T.J. McGinty, Kelsey's father, who gave her the horse. "And I was ticked."
Neighbors surrounding the four-acre open space just north of Limit and Bijou streets near the city's West Side immediately began circulating a petition to overturn the rule.
Last week officials capitulated and removed the ban after a handful of residents appeared before City Council and pointed out that city laws actually encourage horseback riding in open space areas. Now Kelsey can ride again.
But West Side residents still are fuming over what they see as the city's larger failure to respect traditions in the old neighborhoods west of Interstate 25, where some of the flavor of the Wild West lingers.
A lame excuse
"We on the West Side like to maintain a more rural feel," said Peter Burr, who lives near the McGinty family. Benign neglect, he said, is the best policy Colorado Springs can take toward the West Side and its traditions, which include counting horses, chickens and even emus as neighborhood fixtures.
Residents had reason to be upset when the city started micromanaging horse policy, said Jerry Heimlicher, the councilman representing southwestern Colorado Springs.
"[Parks and Recreation] showed total disregard for the area, total disregard for the precedent," he said. "Why wasn't there a public process?"
According to Parks and Recreation Director Paul Butcher, the decision was made due to three complaints that horses were spooking dogs in Promontory Point. In addition, the park technically wasn't open space until last week. Rather, he said, it was parkland nicknamed "open space." Horses are off-limits in some city parks.
Butcher admitted his department had misled people by calling the park open space. "We confused the daylights out of people," he said. The park officially was made an open space last week.
Many observers called it a lame excuse.
Dave Hughes, 77, a longtime board member of the Organization of West Side Neighbors and Old Colorado City Historical Society, summed up his sentiment to the city's larger relationship with the neighborhood: "They can just bite it," he said. "We're going to block them every time they try to screw up the West Side."
For 30 years, Hughes has been studying the relationship between the city and the neighborhood, which came to include Old Colorado City when it was annexed by Colorado Springs in 1917. He points to the West Side's blue-collar, Democratic and union-friendly traditions as a contrast to the "hoity-toity" east of I-25.
"Anything east of I-25 is Kansas, and anything west of Manitou Arch is California," he said. "This is Colorado."
Residents such as T.J. McGinty see Colorado Springs growth patterns spilling over into his neighborhood. "The pressures administrators are under for this grid [are] going to lead to more limitations," he said.
But he and Hughes vowed to keep the West Side old-fashioned, funky and animal-friendly. "That's why we live [here]," he said. "We don't have these designs."
-- Dan Wilcock
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