Imagine observing beavers building dams in wetlands along Fountain Creek or watching the stream change during rainstorms — in person and from a webcam.
How about picnicking near the water’s edge while the kids play in an American Indian village replica playground nearby? Those concepts — for one spot in Colorado Springs and another north of Pueblo — have been conjured by consultants working for Colorado Springs Utilities and another agency to inspire excitement about converting the eroding and murky creek into a natural showcase. “We’re talking about a national jewel, and this is all very, very doable,” said Merle Grimes, with MDG LLC in Denver. Grimes and Kevin Shanks with THK Associates, also of Denver, were hired by Utilities and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, each of which pitched in $300,000. The goal is to advance master planning efforts on Fountain Creek. Wednesday, the consultants outlined their work to the Utilities Board, consisting of the Springs City Council. Taking a page from the playbook of Confluence Park in Denver where Cherry Creek and the Platte River merge, Grimes and Shanks proposed two projects to spotlight what can be done to stir interest in rehabilitating the creek. One demonstration project would encompass about 320 acres along Interstate 25 east of the Piñon truck stop north of Pueblo. Shanks said the landowner has expressed interest in donating the property. Dubbed the Fountain Creek Center at Pueblo Springs Ranch, the site would be reshaped into an ecosystem worthy of study by students from kindergarten to college, Shanks said. “It would be an opportunity for people to understand what a healthy creek looks like,” he said. Viewing towers would be built amid vegetation from which visitors could see water channels and a variety of wildlife. Webcams could be installed so the center could be viewed from elsewhere. Interpretive exhibits would help people understand “how man has related to the creek in the past and how man should relate to the creek in the future,” Shanks said. Construction of wetlands would demonstrate how natural features can help cleanse waterways, he said. He said partners might include a research center in Georgia or the Colorado State University extension service, both of which have expressed interest in collaborating. The second demonstration site lies east of I-25 south of the El Pomar Youth Sports Park in the vicinity of World Arena. Named Fountain Creek Eco-Fit Education Park, it would highlight education and activity, Grimes said. The landowner, he said, is interested in participating. “People need to learn more about our environment through a hands-on, in-thefield way,” Grimes said. Parking lots, he said, would be pervious, and sports fields would have low-water grass planted. Playgrounds could be themed to represent the area’s heritage. A pumpkin patch or cornfield could be part of the plan to recall the area’s agricultural base. Councilwoman Jan Martin was excited about the projects but wondered how they’ll be funded. Because the Springs park would be geared to activity, Grimes said one funding source could be the Department of Health, which issues grants for efforts to reduce obesity. Grimes noted the $100 million Confluence Park, an oasis of healthy wetlands and wildlife that replaced a rubblestrewn quagmire, began with a $1.5 million project and has since received $100 million from various sources. The key is to generate interest, Grimes and Shanks said. After that, volunteers and money will come. The concept is one of several efforts under way to improve Fountain Creek, which has been polluted at times by untreated wastewater and is a sore spot with Pueblo, which lies downstream. “We see this project being a bridge between the two communities,” Shanks said, “both literally and figuratively.” But the projects also may satisfy Bureau of Reclamation requirements that Utilities build or expand wetlands to offset impacts of a pipeline the city wants to build from Pueblo Reservoir. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or email@example.com