Grant boosts city’s chances to buy Sec. 16

       The city's longstanding hope to buy the 640-acre Section 16 open space transformed to a strong possibility with the announcement this week of a $1 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GoCo). The foothills of Section 16 rise south and west of the former
landfill and rock formations in Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
Westside Pioneer photo
       Although the amount is just half of what the city had sought in its grant application last August, Colorado Springs Parks Development Manager Chris Lieber said he thought it would be enough, chiefly in conjunction with earnings from the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales tax by the time the city's Section 16 lease expires in 2010. “We've got some work to do on our end, but at this point I feel pretty confident we can get it done,” he said.
       Owned by the Colorado Land Board, Section 16 is an undeveloped 640-acre property that is essentially between the city-owned 788.1-acre Red Rock Canyon Open Space and El Paso County's Bear Creek Regional Park, which in turn borders Pike National Forest. “It is a missing piece to the puzzle,” Lieber said, referring to human activity as well as that of wild animals, who use the foothills as a corridor. “It makes sense to add the connection as permanent open space.”
       Although Lieber described the state as a “willing seller,” a sale price for the property has yet to be determined. He said the anticipated range is between $3.2 and $5.5 million, which should get narrowed down after an appraisal.
       Lieber, also the manager of TOPS, will be joined in the negotiation efforts by the TOPS board members as well as the city's Real Estate staff, he said.
       Funding help will also come from El Paso County, which has committed $200,000; Manitou Springs, $10,000; and the Trails and Open Space Coalition, $2,500.
       Section 16 is accessible from a county-maintained trailhead off Gold Camp Road. Principal trails are the volunteer-maintained Palmer/Red Rock Loop Trail and Intemann Trail. The latter also connects to Manitou Springs and Red Rock Canyon. The city does not anticipate adding any trails or other amenities to the property, Lieber said.
       When Colorado became a state in 1876, the local Section 16 was one of several set aside for the express purpose of making money for state schools. El Paso County began leasing the local Section 16 from the State Land Board in the 1970s. In the early days, the fee was relatively low - as little as $640 a year - but in recent years it has risen steeply. Also, the state gave serious consideration to a developer who sought to buy the property to build houses in the mid-'90s.
       Under the current lease agreement, the city is paying the state $40,000 a year. That cost is covered by a 2005 grant from GoCo.

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