Public meetings on Red Rock Canyon open space could begin this month

       With the City of Colorado Springs' recently finalized purchase of Red Rock Canyon, public meetings could begin as early as this month on how to use the vast, ruggedly scenic open-space property between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
        "By February or late January, we'll have the first of a series of public meetings to talk about what can and can't be done there," City Parks and Recreation Department Director Paul Butcher said in an interview with the Westside Pioneer. Normally, he said, his department handles parks master plans internally, but on "something this large" public input is needed.
       Preliminary planning was slated to get underway this week between parks officials and Design Concepts of Lafayette, which has been hired as the master-plan consultant in conjunction with Tapis Associates of Colorado Springs.
        At the meetings, which could continue into June, people will have a chance to review the consultant's recommendations and offer their own ideas, Butcher said. Granite formations rise up west of the proposed Hogback Valley Trail 
in Red Rock Canyon. The photo was shot near the intersection of that trail and two others that are proposed in Don Ellis' 'A Suggested Trail Plan 
for Red Rock Canyon Open Space.' The property will be opened as public open space once the necessary physical improvements are 
implemented and a master plan is in place.
       The Parks Department will not make the final decision. Butcher said he wants City Council to do that. The reason? "We know that along the way we will hit some hot buttons," he said.
       No specific schedule has been set for when Red Rocks can open to the public. Butcher said he hopes it can happen sometime this year.
       Even if a master plan were in place now, the city would not be in position to open the property. The city has decided it needs to relocate residents in the three trailer camps near Highway 24 - a process that could take half a year to complete, according to Kent Obee, chairman of Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS), an arm of Parks and Recreation that finalized the Red Rock purchase in late November. Obee spoke at a December 4 meeting of the Red Rock Canyon Committee, which had led the advocacy for the open-space purchase over the past four years.
       Because the bulk of the land - 653 acres - was bought as open space with TOPS funds, the city is constrained as to how much development it can do there. Under open-space rules, little more than trails, trailheads and bathrooms will be allowed. What could be a primary issue at the meetings is the 44 acres near to and fronting Highway 24. Because this portion was bought with state lottery funds, it is not under open-space development constraints.
       Terry Putman, the Parks Department's manager of design and development as well as TOPS, said there are "lots of ideas" for the frontage area. Unlike the scenic, sometimes spectacular interior of the property, this is "not pristine open space," he noted, and could be developed into picnic areas, botanic gardens or even a visitor center.
       Other issues that are likely to come up at the meetings include the long-closed landfill on the property (because of continued methane- gas venting, access must be disallowed for now), and safe access to attractions such as the old quarry and water bodies.
        Another discussion may regard the type of trail system the rugged property should have. Don Ellis, a member of the Red Rock Canyon Committee, has submitted a plan that proposes retaining the existing trails as well as some of the existing roads, which would be reduced to trail width. The plan also suggests adding some new trails to open up more of the property and to link to nearby trails, such as the Intemann in Section 16 and the master-planned Foothills Trail along 31st Street.
       Most of the trails on the property would be multi-use, according to Ellis' "A Suggested Trail Plan for Red Rock Canyon Open Space."
       One issue that could come up at the meetings is what the purchase might mean in terms of the long-debated 31st Street extension. A few acres on the east side of the property, along 31st, will not be part of the open space, but will instead be sold to the city's Public Works Department for right of way acquisition because, as Putman put it, "We have an obligation to honor other plans within the city.”
        However, he said the city has no immediate plans to extend 31st Street south and east to link with Lower Gold Camp Road – it still lacks all the property easements, anyway - and the extension is really just a "side issue" to the discussions on Red Rock Canyon.
        While some disagreements are anticipated at the meetings, Butcher said he did not expect the kind of contentiousness that was commonplace at the citizen meetings when Parks & Rec was developing a new Garden of the Gods master plan in the ‘90s. For the Garden, he noted, existing activities/structuree were being changed. At Red Rock Canyon, “Everyone’s working from a clean slate,” he said.
        The meetings will be chaired by a local facilitator, whose task would be to "referee" any discussions, according to Putman. Red Rock Canyon, consisting of about 790 acres, is located just west of Colorado Springs, between the old Midland area and the Crystal Hills neighborhood in Manitou Springs. To the south, it abuts Section 16, which is leased as park space by El Paso County and in turn borders Pike National Forest.
       Red Rock Canyon Committee volunteers are continuing to lead free hikes of the property. These are scheduled through March at 10 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month, Ellis said.
       Until the sale, the property had been in the Bock family for nearly a century. John G. Bock, who bought the land in 1907, operated a sandstone quarry on it. His son, John S. Bock, who died in 2003, continued the practice of seeking commercial use for the land, renting to operators of trailer parks, a gravel pit and, until 1986, a landfill.
       The younger Bock also tried several times to sell the property to developers, most recently in the late '90s. The latter effort prompted the formation of the Red Rock Canyon Committee and its associated, non-profit Red Rock Canyon Foundation, which, when the development deal fell through, worked with TOPS on the purchase.
       The announced purchase price for the property is $12.5 million. When all costs associated with the purchase are included, the actual cost is expected to be about $14.8 million, according to the Red Rock Canyon Committee.
       Butcher said he had no estimates at this time as to the cost of readying the property for the public or of its maintenance and staffing once it opens.

Westside Pioneer article