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Park situation gives you paws 

City Sage

Chesapeake Bay retrievers love the water — so much so that they'll make your life miserable unless you find them a wet place to frolic.

So when we brought a young Chessie home from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, we searched for water within walking distance.

Ours is not the land of 10,000 lakes, or 100 lakes, or even one pond. Too bad for Dudley — he'd have to settle for Fountain Creek.

We found a trash-strewn, strangely wild stretch of the creek along Highway 24, abutting Vermijo Park. Century-old cottonwoods overhung the watercourse, where ducks swam and fish dimpled the water among rusty shopping carts and plastic bottles. We picked our way cautiously along the steep, rubble-strewn banks as Dudley splashed happily through the pools and riffles. It wasn't exactly the Chesapeake Bay, but it worked.

Until this spring, when the bulldozers came, knocking down dead trees and chewing a path alongside the creek. Then the cement people, pouring massive slabs along the new path, creating an extension to the Midland Trail, which currently dead-ends at 21st Street.

The new segment will run from 25th to 31st streets, essentially connecting nowhere to nowhere. The space between 21st and 25th won't be filled in until the state Department of Transportation overhauls Highway 24. And even when that's done, the Midland is unlikely to get much use until the section between Manitou and Colorado Springs is completed many years hence.

But that's fine with us. No more scrambling down muddy banks, no more tripping over tree roots, no more complaining about the city's neglectful ways. We'll have a broad, convenient walkway, featuring an underpass at 26th Street and four bridges across the creek. Dudley will be delighted, our walks will be safer, and the new trail will probably be deserted at 7:30 a.m. — so much the better for a little illegal off-the-leash swimming.

The price for Dudley's new water-feature access: $693,135.41.

Hey, it's all good ... unless you want to use the restrooms at Vermijo Park. They're closed "for budgetary reasons." City to taxpayers: Walk, run, or ride — but if you want to pee, go behind the tree!

How, one might ask, can city officials close restrooms and slash park maintenance budgets, and simultaneously build elaborate trails to nowhere? Aren't their priorities a little out of whack? Where are the grown-ups? And why hasn't Mayor Steve Bach fixed everything?

To answer the last question first: It ain't easy. The closed restroom is just a metaphor. You can open it, but you may have to close something else.

And city budgeting, as it turns out, isn't irrational. It would be nice if our elected officials could construct a budget, prioritize it, and allocate funds accordingly. But that's not an option, because much city revenue comes with strings attached.

Consider the Midland Trail. Funds for its construction have come from the voter-approved Trails and Open Space tax, a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, and federal highway funds. None of those grandly designed pots of dough can be tapped for the Vermijo crapper, so we'll have to look elsewhere.

What about the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority? Nope — it raises tens of millions annually for ... transportation! Maybe the city's public safety sales tax? Nope — that's for cops and firefighters. The lodging and automobile renters tax? Nope — that's for tourism, and free restrooms don't attract tourists, other than homeless ones. What about Colorado Springs Utilities — if it can borrow a billion or two to bring more water to town, can't it help flush down a few gallons? Nope — it's in the business of selling water, not giving it away.

To pay for water, for public restrooms, and for almost everything it does, the city has to turn to the general fund, to tax revenues not dedicated to special purposes and/or special interests. Those revenues are shrinking.

As University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economist Fred Crowley noted a few weeks ago, "Real, per capita sales tax collections for the City of Colorado Springs are down 9.2 percent since 2008." That's why the mayor is trying to restructure (i.e. reduce) workforce numbers and city employee compensation, outsource wherever he can, and find new revenue sources.

Meanwhile, a bunch of serious, successful and painfully earnest local folks spent last Monday morning in a "branding charrette," trying to figure out the city's new brand. Wasn't invited, but here's a suggestion:

"Trails for dogs, pails for people."

hazlehurst@csindy.com

  • "Trails for dogs, pails for people."

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