This has been a good couple years for open-space enthusiasts.
The city's Trails, Open Space and Parks 1-cent sales tax has allowed the purchase of Corral Bluffs' canyons and White Acres' hogback. And since voters turned down Issue 1C, which would have allowed more TOPS money to be spent on maintaining city parks, TOPS will continue to have its full funding to purchase more open space. It's planning to purchase Section 16, a west side property that the city currently leases, by the end of 2010.
But don't expect to be trekking down brand-new trails this summer.
Preservation comes first, TOPS manager Christian Lieber explains, and recreation second. Before a newly acquired property is opened to the public, there's a long process to make sure natural resources are safe. That means scientists must evaluate paleontological, anthropological, vegetative and wildlife values. A map is then made, showing the most sensitive areas, and the public is asked what trails they want. TOPS combines the information and creates a master plan, which is reviewed by the public and the parks board before finally being set into action. From there, volunteers are recruited to build trails.
All this takes months, or years, to complete.
"It's a long road," Lieber says, chuckling.
Here's a quick look at some challenges presented by the city's latest purchases and a tentative timeline of when you might hike those new parks.
A stunning canyon breaking free of the plains, Corral Bluffs has inspired the lust of outdoor enthusiasts since the 1990s.
In 2008, El Paso County almost bought it for use as an off-road motorcycle park, but plans changed after critics howled that dirt bikes would damage the area's delicate environment and fossils. TOPS swooped in, and City Council approved purchasing the 525 acres east of Colorado Springs for $1 million. Studies are underway, and Lieber notes the planning process will go faster because the county had done some studies, and shared its results with TOPS.
"We're really hitting the ground running on Corral Bluffs," he says.
For now, Corral Bluffs is closed for public use. The only way to see it is by guided tour — the Trails & Open Space Coalition and CoBA (Corral Bluffs Alliance) will offer tours the first Saturday of each month, weather permitting, starting in May (e-mail email@example.com for reservations). Lieber says Corral Bluffs has no trailheads and very few "social trails," or worn routes used by past hikers. Its mostly pristine condition means hikers are more likely to cause damage.
"We know that Corral Bluffs has highly erosive soils," Lieber says. "We know that it has a lot of paleontological values, and then of course the cultural values. There's a lot of natural resource sensitivity on that property, [and] the balance between recreational and natural resource value may look a little different."
Lieber predicts that could mean relatively few trails in Corral Bluffs — though final decisions will come later. Studies should be complete by fall and trail building might begin by spring 2010. Check springsgov.com for volunteer opportunities or call TOPS at 385-6530 for an organized group.
The city will close on buying the White Acres property in December.
Good news: It has a well-established "social trail" accessible from Red Rock Canyon Open Space. It's expected that once the deal is done, that trail will open immediately to the public. That means you can check out the hogback and old rock quarries carved out by settlers. Don Ellis, of the nonprofit Friends of Red Rocks Canyon, says there are also beautiful markings in the rocks.
"There are whole quarry faces that are covered in these ripples," he says. "You can see that in Red Rock Canyon, but it's a little harder to find."
The rest of White Acres will go through the planning process, meaning at least late 2010 before any new trail building could begin.
White Acres was almost the park that got away. After negotiations with TOPS failed in 2008, plans to develop the land moved forward. Then, last month, the church that owns White Acres decided to lower its asking price and allow TOPS to pay it off over four years. The city eventually will own about 45.5 acres connecting Section 16 with Red Rock Canyon, costing $1 million.
Friends of Red Rock Canyon agreed to raise $75,000 this year toward the purchase. Palmer Land Trust had already decided to raise $640,000 toward purchasing Section 16. The two groups combined their campaigns and are taking donations at 632-3236.
Section 16 and beyond
TOPS already knows its next big purchase: Section 16. The city has leased the west side property from the Colorado State Land Board, but now wants to buy it. TOPS has a $1 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and the property is expected to cost $3 to $5 million. Negotiations are underway.
Section 16 might not change much, since its trails are already well-worn, but a few trail connections could be added. In years ahead, TOPS hopes to add trails to Red Rock Canyon and Blodgett Peak Open Space, and fill in gaps in the popular Sand Creek, Midland and Cottonwood trails.
Meanwhile, Colorado State Parks is working on adding a trail to the top of Cheyenne Mountain; it could be in place by fall 2010. A campground and 20 miles of trail are already built in Cheyenne Mountain State Park.