9 properties down, 17 to go for Garden of the Gods ‘backdrop’

       In its early days, Colorado Springs had unbroken mountain views.

A photo taken from the recently donated Palmer Land Trust lot shows the Garden of the Gods below and the Colorado Springs Westside.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Then along came developments such as Crystal Park, Cedar Heights and Upper Skyway, mixing houses and/or roads into the natural vistas (also known as the city's “backdrop”).
       No such developments have occurred yet in the prominent hillsides at the west end of the Garden of the Gods - even though, around 1970, a subdivision created 26 lots off Rampart Range Road, in sizes of 1 to 5 acres, that were readily visible from various Garden spots. How a subdivision like that got approved without apparent outcry is not known to Josh Tenneson, programs director of the Palmer Land Trust. “It's just the way things were done here in the late '60s and early '70s,” he said. But if homes had been built on those lots, “they would have drastically impaired the Garden's backdrop.”
       Instead, what's happened over the years is the city buying up or accepting donations of those lots, one by one. Going into this year, the total obtained was seven. Then, one of the property owners donated a parcel. And in June, the Land Trust, which specializes in preserving strategic open space around the area, donated a 1.8- acre piece it had purchased in 1984. So now 9 of the 26 lots have been obtained.
       As for the other 17, so far, at least, none of the owners have built anything, although proposals have come forward over the years, Tenneson said. One problem is access. The only way in is from Rampart Range Road, and the city closes that road (from the Garden of the Gods' Garden Drive) after dark. Other issues are utilities connections and dealing with potential geologic instability, Tenneson pointed out.
       The reason the Land Trust hadn't donated its lot to the city sooner was the hope of obtaining others and donating them all at one time, he said. But that hasn't proved easy. Cost is an issue. Depending on who's doing the appraising of different lots, buying the remaining 17 could run as low as $500,000 or more than $1.5 million. In any case, buying them all “would take more financial resources than we can put together,” Tenneson said.

A Google Earth image looking southwest over the South Gateway Rock (foreground) is modeled to show the backdrop subdivision area (grey=city-owned, black=the Palmer Land Trust lot and white=privately owned).
Courtesy of Palmer Land Trust

       Parcel donations are encouraged (the “carrot” for property owners is a charitable income tax deduction), but the Trust also has to be careful not to seems like it's pressuring owners too much, he added.
       Land Trust Board President Linda Overlin commented, “We'd like to do it all at once, but dealing with different land owners is difficult.”
       City staff lauded the Land Trust's donation in a recommendation to City Council (which voted for acceptance without comment at its June 22 meeting). “Acceptance of the property for public park purposes will protect the westerly viewshed,” the recommendation states, “provide a buffer from development, preserve vegetation and protect wildlife habitat. Given the property's location within the existing boundary of the park, anticipated maintenance expenses will be minimal.”
       Most residents not only don't realize that such efforts are going on, they may incorrectly assume the views are automatically preserved. “I don't think people realize as they look out from Colorado Springs that their view won't always be the way it's been,” Overlin said. “But you look at Cedar Heights or Upper Skyway, and you see what can happen. These are things we're trying to work on.”

Westside Pioneer article