New Red Rock goal: ‘Save the pond’
Water-pipe proposal to be topic at Aug. 1 workshop

       When the city bought Red Rock Canyon as open space in 2003, one of the 789-acre property's features was a pair of man-made ponds, one above the other, located off the main road (now a trail) near the former Bock family house (now a pavilion).

The diminished upper pond at Red Rock Canyon Open Space can be seen in a recent photo from a similar vantage point as the older City Parks photo at right. Beyond the wall of the dam is the lower pond, which is now dry.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But after a number of drought years, the ponds' levels “have dropped significantly,” Chris Lieber, a planner with City Parks, said this week.
       He did not have exact measurements, but informal observations indicate that the upper pond contains a third to a half as much as it used to, while the lower pond has dried up altogether.
       The issue is coming to the forefront - with a possible plan for refilling at least the upper pond - as part of the upcoming restart of the city's joint master-plan process for Red Rock and its neighboring, more recently acquired open space properties, White Acres and Section 16. The first master-plan meeting, described as a “public workshop,” will be Wednesday, Aug. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.
       The future of the pond(s) is one of the specific workshop topics, as shown on the City Parks website.
       Other website-listed topics are a “brief 'refresher' on where the process left off in October, existing conditions and site assessment, information on the trails standards process to come and review of a few trail possibilities.”

This Red Rock Canyon photo from about 10 years ago shows the upper pond when it was close to full. Note the bluer color and that there was also water then in the lower pond.
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Parks

       Trails have been a contentious subject citywide, as the city seeks ways to satisfy all user types (mainly hikers, bicyclists and horse-riders) in terms of trail designs and locations.
       In conjunction with a consultant, the city had started holding Red Rock master-plan workshops last year, but halted the process in October out of a concern that more formal “relationships” first needed to be established with all the “friends” groups that volunteer on city properties and trails citywide. The relationships process, led by a different consultant, had its last meeting with friends groups earlier this month, and most such groups have since agreed to a template defining a long-term set of rules for working with the city and avoiding liability issues.
       The “save the pond” impetus is coming primarily from the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, the volunteer group that helps the city look after the parcel. “We believe it's something that would be embraced by a lot of people,” said Karl Klepfer, the Friends president. “This is exciting stuff, great stuff.”
       In the draft master plan, the city presents two possible “scenarios” for the ponds. The “first scenario,” which the Friends group supports, would include running a water pipe from a main near Highway 24 to the upper pond. That would provide a permanent source of water to keep it filled. The retention issue would be addressed by keeping the lower pond as a “safety back-up” for the upper pond, the draft plan states.
       The current arrangement - in which the ponds catch runoff from adjacent canyons, and the water from the upper pond overflows into the lower pond during heavy rainfall - has legal implications even if the drought hadn't occurred. “All scenarios must take into account that all of the surface and subsurface water is owned by Colorado Springs Utilities and other downstream entities, cannot be retained on-site and must be allowed to pass through to Fountain Creek,” the draft master plan states.
       Other pond improvements in the first scenario are “reworking the upper dam spillway to accommodate a 100-year storm capacity and lining the upper pond to prevent water seepage,” the draft states.
       No exact price tag has been analyzed, but Lieber estimated the cost for the first scenario as $150,000 to $200,000.
       The second scenario, estimated at about half the cost of the first, would “breach both dams and restore the former pond bottoms to natural vegetation, thereby enabling the passage of all surface water to downstream users,” the draft states. An 18-inch-wide storm drain from the lower pond “would fulfill our obligation to pass water on in a safe and controlled manner,” Lieber said.
       Even if the upper pond were filled, it would still not be open to swimming or fishing, Lieber pointed out. But more than aesthetics is involved. Keeping the pond “helps with wildlife habitat,” he said. “It's part of that ecosystem.”
       The Friends group has already started on a “save the pond” fundraising plan. A regional effort is set to start this fall through IndyGive. Klepfer also plans a wider reach, contacting national organizations such as the Audobon Society, with the ideal goal of covering all the costs at no expense to City Parks.
       But before moving forward, the city would like to see a pond-filling consensus from the public. “We need to have these conversations in the master-plan process,” Lieber said.
       The original Red Rock Canyon Open Space master plan was developed in 2004. The current strategy is to rework that into a new master plan that also encompasses the 640-acre Section 16 and 45-acre White Acres, with all three properties falling under the umbrella name of Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
       The draft master plan can be reviewed at the website, springsgov.com. The City Parks phone is 385-5940.

Westside Pioneer article