Parks director: Don’t ‘overload’ Red Rock OS

       New facilities being proposed for the new Red Rock Canyon Open Space can be maintained as long as they don't “overload” the property, according to Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Director Paul Butcher.
        He also raised questions whether popular but potentially pricey citizen proposals, such as a city-staffed visitor's center or boating facilities on the property's lake, will make the final cut.
       In separate interviews, Butcher and Parks and Rec colleague Terry Putman indicated to the Westside Pioneer that money should be available for Red Rock Canyon upkeep as long as it is only modestly developed.
        The issue of long-term maintenance arose this month at the third of five public meetings to gather citizen ideas for a Red Rock Canyon master plan. A citizen noted that near by Garden of the Gods lacks money to take care of itself and expressed concern that Red Rock Canyon could wind up the same way.
       Garden of the Gods maintenance is not a happy subject for Putman, who is Parks' manager of design and development as well as of Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS). “We only have one full-time staffer at the Garden of the Gods - a park that gets one and a half million visitors a year,” he said.
       Butcher pointed out that Red Rock Canyon has a different legal status. Having been purchased with TOPS funds, it is also eligible for maintenance money from a percentage of that source. As far as initial construction and getting the park opened to the public, the city can use part of a $1 million Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, Putman pointed out.
        However, Butcher cautioned that “We can't overload it (Red Rock Canyon).”
        The available revenue would allow no more than one employee to work at the site, he said - and that one would possibly have to share time with Stratton Open Space.
       As for a visitors center - an idea favored by many of the meeting attendees - he said it could be possible to “utilize the house that's there,” but having only one employee would prevent a paid staffer from manning such a facility.
        A legal issue is just how much development can be allowed in the interior 653 acres of the 788.1-acre Red Rock property. Because that acreage was bought with open-space funds, certain laws apply that could limit the amount of development and “active recreation” there, Butcher said. He said a legal opinion might be needed if people want that area to have more than just trails, trailheads, parking areas, restrooms and picnic tables.
       More flexibility surrounds the 44 acres closer to Highway 24 because it was bought with park funds that are less restrictive. But at the meetings, people showed more interest in the more spectacular interior area.
        A major revenue shortfall could arise if Douglas Bruce succeeds in his lawsuit against the extension of the TOPS .01 percent sales tax. Although voters approved the extension (continuing the tax from 2010 to 2025) by a large margin last year, Bruce contends it violates the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) state law that he authored. A district judge could rule on the suit as early as May 18.
       When they split up into subgroups at the March 10 meeting, citizens were asked to suggest usage ideas - but not told about spending limitations - as well as revenue sources.
       Usage ideas included a parachute landing area, a wedding chapel, a blind-or-braille hiking trail, handicapped-access trails, technical (“free-riding”) bicycling areas, ski touring routes, large parking areas, wildlife protection efforts, boating on the lake, technical climbing areas, roads going a mile or more into the site, a visitors center, dog areas and three major trailheads.
       The list of potential revenue sources was shorter. Most tangible among the suggestions were parking or other kinds of user fees, sales of tiles (like at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or the World Arena), and proceeds from sales at a gift shop on the site.
       Asked why subgroups were not told about spending limitations, Butcher said he wasn't sure. “Maybe it was an effort to get people thinking outside the box,” he said. He added, however, that he and his staff are not automatically eliminating any ideas - at least, not yet.
       The next step in the process is the development of a draft plan by Design Concepts, a consulting firm that was hired to work with the city for the master-planning effort. Rob Layton of Design Concepts said after the meeting he needed time to “digest” the suggestions that had come in, but that he would try to incorporate ideas that seem to reflect a consensus of the participants.
       Layton emphasized that the draft plan, to be unveiled at the April 14 public meeting, “won't be final. The people will get another shot.”
       After the last citizen meeting May 5, the issue will go to the Parks Board.

Westside Pioneer article