Departing director of TOPS will still volunteer

       Chris Lieber is a familiar face on the Westside.

Chris Lieber

       He's been a City Parks administrator, but hardly the deskbound type. As the department's development manager and director of the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program and part of TOPS since its inception in 1997, he has regularly been seen on the “front lines” at improvement projects in TOPS properties - including the trails in Red Rock Canyon Open Space since 2004. Even before joining the city, Lieber had helped lead Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado projects on the Siamese Twins Trail in the Garden of the Gods and the Intemann Trail above Manitou Springs.
       He plans to continue such “field” efforts in the future - an upcoming example is his role in the project next September to help the Friends of Red Rock Canyon build the new Codell Interpretive Trail in Red Rock Canyon.
       The difference is, Lieber is back to doing such work in an unofficial capacity. He has announced his resignation from the city, effective May 21. “It was a difficult decision,” he said in a recent interview. “Personally, I was at the point where I wanted to make a change.” He has accepted a position with Kezziah/Watkins, a Colora-do Springs company that specializes in facilitating discussions with at-odds groups (locally and around the country) to seek mutually agreeable outcomes. “One of the pieces I enjoyed most in this job [with the city] was bringing people together,” Lieber elaborated. “Hopefully now I can make a difference in this community and others.”
       An example was the White Acres debate, which started with friction between open space advocates and developers but ended last year with the 45-acre property off 26th Street and Gold Camp Road becoming city open space. In the deal, which was ultimately ratified by City Council, the developers agreed to sell the property to the city for a reduced amount and the advocates agreed to raise $75,000 in 2009 to help the city pay for it.
       Sarah Bryarly of City Parks, who has worked with Lieber and put in many hours of open space trail work herself, will be acting in his place, he said.
       From a personal standpoint, Lieber sees his new job as a bit more flexible than city employment. “I have two kids, and I'm looking forward to spending more time out there enjoying the parks and trails with them,” he said.
       In addition to trail volunteering, Lieber said he will lend time to the Sustainable Parks Initiative - an effort led by the non-profit Trails and Open Space Coalition to seek funding sources for the city and county parks systems, both of which have experienced large budget cuts in the past two or three years. “We need to find a balance,” Lieber said. A new tax, for example, “would have to represent good value, especially for people's tax dollars.”
       A native of Canova, South Dakota (“population 150, counting the cats and dogs”), Lieber graduated from Ball State University (Indiana) before moving to the Springs in 1992. He initially worked for NES, a private planning company.
       He leaves the city after overseeing the city's addition of 32 neighborhood parks, 6,178 acres of open space and 46 miles of urban trails since TOPS began. The program is funded through a voter-approved .1 percent sales tax.
       One of Lieber's long-time goals, still undone, has been TOPS purchasing the scenic, 640-acre Section 16 property, which neighbors Red Rock Canyon and White Acres and includes miles of volunteer-built trails. However, he thinks it could still happen. At the city's request, District 18 State Rep. Michael Merrifield sponsored a successful bill this session that's intended to simplify negotiations between the city and the State Land Board, which owns the property. “I'm hopeful that we [the city] could move on that in three to six months,” Lieber said.
       At the end of the interview, Lieber asked to add a statement. “I'd like to say thank you to the community for its support of the TOPS program,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article