August 21, 2013 Updated: August 21, 2013 at 8:10 am
Just off of Old Broadmoor Road, there was a patch of big, full-grown trees that provided shade and a buffer between the homes.
Neighbors enjoyed watching the goshawks nesting there and appreciated that the trees blocked the sound of traffic. The thick, wooded area was a part of the neighborhood charm, one resident said.
This month, a city-hired crew cut down half of those trees and had plans to cut the other half down starting Wednesday.
But resident Andrew Lewis called his city council representative, Keith King; the mayor; and the parks and recreation department and got the project stopped, at least temporarily.
"They have clear-cut the green belt," Lewis said.
The patch of trees is in the Winfield Scott Park, about 3.6 acres of city-owned open space surrounded by homes.
Kurt Schroeder, city parks and recreation manager, is not sure when the city acquired the open space but it's been there for decades, unkempt and untouched by city crews.
Two residents from the neighborhood called the city in April with concerns - the trees were so dry and entangled, they were a fire hazard, they reported.
City officials agreed.
The city had set aside $1 million this year for about a dozen fuel reduction and resource management projects across the city - including the Garden of the Gods area, Red Rock Canyon, North Cheyenne Canyon and Bear Creek Canyon. Removing dead or dying trees and undergrowth became a priority after the Waldo Canyon fire, Schroeder said.
The open space off Old Broadmoor Road fit the bill for the fuel reduction program, he said. There were a lot of overgrown invasive species, mostly the Siberian elm, which grow fast and take over prairies.
"It's been choking out the native scrub oak and cottonwood," he said. "It just out-competes for water, sun and nutrients. They are aggressive and grow quickly."
Crews started tree removal Aug. 12 on the east side of the Winfield Scott Park, which is divided by Sycamore Street. Neighbors on the east side of the park received postcards July 15 with the news. No one objected, Schroeder said.
Lewis said no one objected because they thought the crews were going to do some cleaning and a little thinning.
"A week ago, a crew showed up at 6:30 and started working. It took a couple of days to discover the extent of the work," Lewis said. "They have cut the vast majority of the trees."
Residents on the west side of Sycamore Street received their postcards Tuesday. By then, Lewis had alerted the media and council members about the plight of the open space and was able to put the brakes on more tree removal from the park.
"We at least want this delayed so the neighborhood can voice our opinion on how tax money is being spent," Lewis said.
Schroeder said city officials will meet with the neighbors and listen to their concerns before removing more trees from the park. He said he understands the change in the park is dramatic but said with the Siberian elms out, the grass and native trees will make a comeback and be thriving by next spring.
"It's a surprise to residents now that they are seeing some activity; it's significant activity," Schroeder said. "Because of non-native vegetation that has moved in and it choking out the native trees, it has gotten out of hand and a lot of trees are coming out."