TOPS readies grant request to buy Section 16
Effort hinges on Bruce lawsuit ruling

A jogger stretches in front of the Section 16 Trailhead sign. The county-maintained trailhead provides non-motorized 
access to the 640-acre property - a rock formation of which can be seen looming above.        Colorado Springs Parks, through its TOPS program, is leading a grant-writing effort with the goal of purchasing Section 16 as open space. The request will go to Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), which oversees parks/outdoor spending from statewide lottery funds.
      If the purchase occurs, “it will link an entire system of Westside properties,” said Terry Putman, a City Parks official who serves as development manager for TOPS (Trails, Open Space and Parks).
      The 640-acre parcel lies just south of Red Rock Canyon Open Space (a 788.1-acre property the city bought last year), adjoins the county's Bear Creek Park and is near the city's Bear Creek Canyon, Cheyenne Canyon and Garden of the Gods parks, Putman noted.
      The exact amount needed for the purchase is not yet certain. The $4 million appraisal of the 640-acre parcel is not “real recent,” said City Parks grant writer Aimee Cox.
      The tentative amount the city would provide is $1.7 million, plus $200,000 from El Paso County Parks, with the balance to be paid with the GOCO grant.
      County Parks Director Tim Wolken said the proposal will be on the agenda for the county commissioners' meeting Thursday, Aug. 5. Noting that the county had leased the scenic foothills property from the State Land Board as open space from 1972 until this year (when the city took over the expense), Wolken said he and others in his office are “excited about the possibility (of) securing Section 16 forever.”
      If the grant is approved, the county would hold a “third-party conservation easement,” which is required as “another layer of protection” by GOCO when a local government purchases open space, Cox said.
      Asked if the grant has a good chance, Putman replied, “I think so. We've already made one cut (in GOCO's preliminary consideration of grant proposals), and we're in the top tier of five tiers (in the evaluation process).”
      GOCO contributed $1 million to the city's $12.5 million purchase of Red Rock Canyon last year.
      However, the whole Section 16 effort could fall apart, depending on a district judge's ruling. Local tax skeptic (and District 2 county commissioner candidate) Doug Bruce has challenged the legality of the public election last year that extended the .01-cent TOPS sales tax. Bruce believes the ballot wording did not clarify that the extension was essentially a tax increase. If the judge sides with him, TOPS would not be able to afford its share, Putman said.
      All this information has been shared with GOCO, he noted. Depending on when or what the judge's ruling is, the city could withdraw its application in August or September, he said.
      In the meantime, the city and TOPS is moving forward with the grant. The current phase is gathering letters of support from citizens. Such letters need to be submitted to TOPS by Aug. 2. (For more information, call Cox at 385-6532.)
      Cox said she will then assimilate this input into the grant package. It needs to be submitted by Aug. 6, with the the GOCO board expected to vote on it in December.
      Section 16 is undeveloped, except for a few popular trails, principally the Palmer/Red Rock Loop Trail and the eastern segment of the five-mile Intemann Trail to Manitou Springs. The Intemann segment was built between 1987 and 1989 and continues to be maintained by volunteers. Volunteers also maintain the Palmer Trail.
      Popular support to keep Section 16 as open space was evidenced in 1994- 95, in opposition to a developer's proposal to subdivide the property for homes. County commissioners at the time took a position against the development concept.

Westside Pioneer Article