he new draft of the North Cheyenne Cañon Master & Management plan about to be considered by the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (at 7:30 a.m. on April 12) is seriously flawed — both in its timing and its content.
A plan for North Cheyenne Cañon Park (NCCP) should either have been done before the city-Broadmoor land swap — in which the city gave The Broadmoor the open space known as Strawberry Fields — or delayed until the current Save Cheyenne lawsuit challenging the exchange is resolved. On March 22, Save Cheyenne filed an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court to hear its suit, in which we seek to return Strawberry Fields to the city. If we prevail, an NCCP master plan, which includes Strawberry Fields, will have to be redrafted. Save Cheyenne will know in four or five months whether the Supreme Court has accepted our case. We and our attorney are optimistic and believe we have solid grounds for the appeal.
In terms of content, the plan is a bucket list of options and tools that amount to ruinous overreach. The Cañon, first and foremost, should be left in its natural state, as much as is still possible. Instead, discussions have veered into one day considering noisy, fume-emitting shuttles, or to blasting away the canyon’s ancient granite walls to accommodate those same shuttles, or redirecting the flow of snow-fed South Cheyenne Creek, or strapping large and disfiguring cantilevered walkways and bridges to the canyon walls.
Let carrying capacity determine what decisions are made about NCCP. Indeed, let the existing parking areas and pullouts, re-lined with marked spaces for efficiency, determine the number of visitors admitted into the canyon at any given time. This is a small, narrow space we’re talking about. It’s also an area noted for wildlife diversity. For these reasons and others, it makes sense to limit the numbers — and not see how many people we can shoehorn in.
It is not the job of the city parks department to market for tourists and then propose a major engineering overhaul of a spectacular natural feature to accommodate them. It should be remembered that the park belongs to the city’s residents. It is they who voted to save it in 1885, who have raised money and contributed sweat equity to steward it, and who continue to pay taxes for its support.
Many of the proposals in the 130-page, 2018 NCCP master plan were not received well by the roughly 100 to 150 individuals who attended each planning session. If citizens were asked to vote on most of these proposals, aside from some of the trail improvements, a majority would undoubtedly give a thumbs down. Already more than 3,700 people have signed a petition on Change.org against the heartily disliked proposals to enlarge the North Cheyenne Cañon Road and introduce shuttle buses (a plan to widen the road and add shuttles was recently pulled, though shuttles could be considered in the future); not to mention, to shut down a large portion of South Cheyenne Cañon to the public.
Likewise, the idea that the area below Mount Cutler is an “interpretive site” stretches credulity. As one respected local historian, a third-generation Colorado Springs native who knows the land well, has pointed out, there is no buildup of residual soil deposits at this site that would hide significant finds. And given the numbers of social trails in the area, it’s a pretty safe assumption that important Native American structures or artifacts on the site would have been found long ago. Thankfully, the city decided to allow a trail into the area following public feedback.
It is worth recalling a bit of history. In the spring of 1883, Colorado College president E.P. Tenney erected a series of toll gates in North Cheyenne Cañon land, which the college had purchased as a real estate investment to raise money for the financially strapped college. A minister, Tenney believed that in raising money for education he was “Doing the Business for God.”
Here’s what angry citizens had to say about Tenney’s widely hated tolls. In 1883 “A Working Woman,” upset about Sunday closures, wrote to the Gazette that the canyons were the “natural breathing space” of the town and that to deprive working people of access on their only day off was a “public Calamity.” Another outraged citizen protested that this was not God’s work in the “way the Bible taught.”
Some, if not all of the trail changes proposed in the 2018 NCCP Master Plan, are good ones. But leave the canyon intact.
The park belongs to the residents of Colorado Springs.
Ruth Obee is an author, feature writer and award-winning poet who has served abroad with her husband, a former career diplomat, in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Tanzania and South Africa. She is an open space advocate and member of Save Cheyenne.