Grant to City Parks ensures Section 16 lease to continue 5 more years

       Section 16 will remain recreational open space for at least five more years, thanks to a grant from Greater Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to Colorado Springs Parks.
       The $200,000 will cover the $40,000-a-year lease costs through December 2010, according to City Parks grant writer Aimee Cox.
       Owned by the State Land Board, Section 16 is an undeveloped, 640-acre property just south of Red Rock Canyon Open Space and near other city and county parks and national forest lands. It has several trails, including the popular Palmer/Red Rock Loop and Intemann trails.
       The grant amounts to a compromise. This fall, City Parks had applied to GOCO for a $2.4 million grant to buy Section 16, in hopes of ensuring it would stay open space in perpetuity. However, the city's ability to pay its share of the cost ($800,000) was jeopardized when a district judge ruled in late August that the ballot wording in a 2003 voter-approved tax extension for Colorado Spring's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program did not follow state law. Unless the city wins a court appeal or creates a new ballot question for the extension, the current .01-percent tax will expire after 2009.
       Cox said the city appreciates GOCO's “creative” approach to the city's problem. Although “we were a bit disappointed” about not being able to buy the site, the leasing grant “will enable Colorado Springs to put together the resources we need to purchase the property,” she said. “It gives us time to work through our TOPS issues.”
       The lease would have been up for renewal next July.
       When Colorado became a state in 1876, the local Section 16 was one of several sections statewide that the state kept for the express purpose of making money for state schools. The State Land Board, which oversees that process, had leased the local Section 16 relatively cheaply for many years, but of late has been radically upping the rate as well as seeking buyers for it.
       Cox said that the annual rate once was as low as $640. Two years ago, when the county was still leasing the land, it was $3,200, and this year the city paid $9,600.
       Another stipulation in the five-year lease is that the city will have right of first refusal on any sale of the property, she said.
       El Paso County Parks had pledged $200,000 as an added matching fund in the city's Section 16 grant application package. There is no telling whether that match will still be available in five years, Cox said.

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