City parks in Colorado Springs are facing a crisis. Our growing city, combined with pent-up travel demand from tourists, equal more foot traffic, more trash, more … everything … in Garden of the Gods, Ute Valley, Cheyenne Cañon and Palmer parks.
And to make matters more complicated, the amount of new green spaces and parkland hasn’t matched growth — and that is generating a looming crisis for the city.
Our natural resources are one of the main reasons people want to visit and live here, and we must take care of those resources. We have to preserve more open space, demand that developers include adequate open space in their plans and stop concreting over some of the most beautiful landscape in our nation.
As we reported in last week’s Indy, our city’s parks dropped from 14th best in the nation to 58th, according to the Trust for Public Lands. The organization said Colorado Springs spends $92 per resident on its park system, compared to $151 by Denver and $159 by Aurora.
It’s time to invest in the city’s open space and parks. It’s time to value the outdoors with dollars and cents, and not just with more lip service and meetings. When the latest iteration of the ballot measure to extend the Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax failed last year, it left the city’s parks in jeopardy.
We need money for parks — for the red-rock formations in Garden of the Gods, the trails through Cheyenne Cañon, the gorgeous views of Palmer Park. And there’s a way to get it without opening our own pocketbooks.
A potential funding source: the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, also known as LART. In Colorado Springs, LART is low — among the lowest in the nation. Tourists pay 1 percent tax on automobile rentals and 2 percent tax on hotels in Colorado Springs. Compare that to Charleston, South Carolina: the auto rental tax alone is 13.25 percent. Charleston’s sales tax is 9.25 percent, higher than the Springs’ rate of 8.25 percent, and its hotel tax is 5 percent. That city doesn’t see nearly as many tourists as Colorado Springs, but has equally vulnerable natural resources to protect.
Imagine what even a small increase could do for our parks; imagine being able to purchase more parkland for areas that don’t have adequate open space. Imagine adding trees, grass, sporting fields and trails to more parts of the city. Currently, Colorado Springs dedicates a mere 11.6 percent of its land for parks. And yet, the natural landscape is one of the top reasons people love our city.
Lack of investment in parks has led to a backlog of 15 neighborhood and community parks projects. There’s just no money for them. And when the new TOPS initiative failed to pass, hope for those parks failed as well.
Colorado Springs park leaders — and the Trails and Open Space Working Committee — are doing their best to make parks a priority. But it’s hard without increased funding. And even if a TOPS initiative passes to increase open space and add parks, we need more general fund money to maintain the parklands we already have.
We face an urgent need to protect Colorado Springs’ natural resources — and it makes sense to ask those who visit our city to pay their fair share to maintain our park system. We live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. There’s absolutely no reason that tourists can’t help us keep it that way.