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Amid Bear Creek fish-preservation controversy, county considers owning Jones Park

       El Paso County has inquired about being given the scenic property known as Jones Park that now belongs to Colorado Springs Utilities in the Bear Creek Watershed area west of the city.
       This goal is stated in a July 3 letter from County Commissioner Chair Dennis Hisey to Colorado Springs City Council (which governs Utilities as a city-owned enterprise).
       The 1,172-acre property - popular with mountain hikers and bikers - is currently surrounded by public land owned by the US Forest Service.

The Jones Park property, owned by Colorado Springs Utilities in the Bear Creek Watershed, is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land.
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
       The county's no-cost acquisition idea arises in the midst of the Forest Service's controversial proposal to close or reroute several trails near to or that pass through Jones Park, as part of a National Environmental Planning Act (NEPA) process to protect the greenback cutthroat trout habitat in Bear Creek. The old trails are open now, but that could change this fall after the NEPA study is complete.
       Referring to a Utilities staff recommendation to convey Jones Park to the Forest Service, Hisey's letter asks council to delay action on that at its July 16 meeting. “As the county has recently been invited to participate in the stakeholder process for the Jones Park project, we respectfully request that this issue be postponed to provide additional time to explore other opportunities for the Jones Park parcel that may be more advantageous for our local residents,” he writes.
       The letter elaborates: “El Paso County is interested in exploring the ownership of Jones Park as we have a successful history of managing similar sites such as Jones Park through our regional park system. There are advantages to local ownership, including providing our residents access to local leaders and staff regarding the management of the site, and we have a successful track record of obtaining grants and third-party support for park/trail improvements. We are also interested in exploring the potential connection of the Jones Park property to the city's park system.”
       Hisey's letter asserts that Utilities staff "recommends transferring the property to the USFS [U.S. Forest Service] to avoid the costs of implementing the NEPA decision and the ongoing maintenance expense while allowing the USFS to continue to support the recreational opportunities at Jones Park."
       The letter concludes: “As El Paso County has only been involved in the property-conveyance discussion since June, delaying action on this item will allow El Paso County and the City of Colorado Springs the needed time to explore opportunities with Jones Park stakeholders.”
       An earlier paragraph in Hisey's letter provides some history, noting that Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) had acquired Jones Park “over 50 years ago with plans to use the property to expand the city's water system. It is our understanding through discussions with CSU, that the water system plan did not materialize and Jones Park no longer has any operational value for CSU.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 7/4/14; Outdoors: City/County Parks)

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