Westsider makes a stand for disabled access to Red Rock Canyon

       Colorado Springs Parks staff believe they can only go so far in allowing vehicular access to Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
       But Russ Chapman, an 80-year-old Westside resident who's on oxygen (though he never smoked), wishes they would go a lot farther.
       To be more precise, the city - in keeping with the 1-year-old Red Rock Master Plan and conditions governing open-space purchases - is willing to let disabled folks drive about a third of a mile past the main parking lot off Highway 24. They would then be able to park at a lot (not yet developed) just north of the old Bock family house (which is to become an interpretative area), near a lake and a large, grassy area known as the Open Green.
       To augment this plan, “staff is exploring opportunities” with area entities that serve the elderly or disabled, according to City Parks Development Director Chris Lieber in an Oct. 3 memo (made public at the Oct. 13 Parks Advisory Board meeting). The memo adds that Silver Key “has indicated a willingness to discuss group tours of Red Rock Canyon (to the house area) on a scheduled basis.”
       What Chapman would like to see is a regular tram - for which he's willing to pay a ridership fee - that could carry less athletic people to some of Red Rock's most scenic areas. For instance, a driveable gravel road (inherited from the Bocks and designated as a hiking trail) continues past the Open Green. Scarcely a quarter mile up that road is one of the prettiest sights in the park - the majestic view of once-quarried sandstone fins - but for a minimally mobile person like Chapman, it might as well be a quarter of the way around the world.
       “I helped get this park,” Chapman said in a recent interview. “And I'm as interested as anybody that it stay as pristine as possible. I don't want cars there to alter its beauty, but the city could lay one single lane for a tram.” Only allowing disabled people to drive as far as the house, he said, is “pure tokenism. It's not giving us the views everyone else has.” He calls the current Red Rock, with its emphasis on athletic activities (such as biking, climbing and hiking) “the world's largest outdoor gymnasium.”
       According to City Parks Development Director Chris Lieber, the city's hands are tied regarding Chapman's ultimate wishes. The reason cars can go as far as the house is because that part of the park (between there and Highway 24) was not bought with TOPS funds and thus does not have the motor-vehicle restriction. “Access beyond the Bock residence is limited to 'non'motorized' use by the TOPS ordinance,” Lieber notes in an Oct. 3 memo to City Parks Director Paul Butcher (made public at the Oct. 13 Parks Advisory Board meeting).
       Another factor Lieber feels is important is that during the public master-plan process a large majority of the participants urged the city to keep Red Rock vehicle-free. Although numerous Bock roads still exist, plans call for them to be “narrowed and revegetated for trail access,” his memo states.
       Some of the trails in the park, totaling 4.65 miles, are being designed to allow people in wheelchairs. “These trails will meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and will not have steps or other obstacles in them,” the Red Rock Master Plan reads.
       Chapman says he will continue to agitate for improved access. He is skeptical that the TOPS ordinance is really that binding, and that the city just needs to be convinced there's a demand.
       “Before I go, I'm dedicated to see the day, when someone can catch a tram every half-hour up there,” he said. “It's not just me, there are thousands of people who could and should enjoy it.”

Westside Pioneer article