Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Officials seek dialogue with citizens on Colorado Springs park system

By Monica Mendoza Updated: April 29, 2014 at 10:25 am

Community gardens, places to fish and winter sports activities are among the programs residents want added to Colorado Springs parks' plan, according to a city survey.

The city's parks department is updating its Parks Master Plan, the city's blueprint for building and maintaining the city's parks, trails and open spaces.

Park officials will host a community meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 30 in the City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St. They want to hear from residents about their top priorities and concerns regarding the city's parks and services.

"We want to look at trends and challenges and put together a road map that will lead us through the next 10 years," said Karen Palus, parks director. She expects to present a draft of the Parks Master Plan to the City Council in August.

In a recent survey of residents, respondents said they mostly want the city to maintain the existing 9,000 acres of parks and 115 miles of trails.

That's a shift from 14 years ago, when the last Parks Master Plan was updated. Then, the city was growing at a fast clip and residents wanted the city's parks to keep pace. More neighborhood and community parks were at the top of the wish list.

The city built 15 new neighborhood parks in the past decade, said Chris Lieber, the city's park development manager. It also bought land to build larger community parks - something on the 2000 Park Master Plan wish list from residents.

But the economy slowed and in 2010 the parks department, among other city departments, took a budget blow. The city didn't have the money to operate the planned community parks, Palus said. The parks budget declined from 8 percent of the city's general fund to about 2 percent.

Some parks were never built and remain on the drawing board.

Last summer, the City Council approved a $5.9 million parks spending plan that included spending $1 million replacing tennis courts at Memorial Park. Most of the money was spent on overdue maintenance.

However, the list of deferred maintenance in parks is more than $180 million.

It seems residents are aware of that long list, Lieber said. In the park survey, 74 percent of respondents agreed that improving the park maintenance efforts was a top priority.

"It's still important to anticipate growth, but it's also very important to take care of what we have now," Lieber said.

The park survey, which was mailed to 1,600 and returned by 252 residents, also shows residents want more trails and more open space, and that should remain a priority, said Susan Davies, executive director of Colorado Springs advocacy group Trails and Open Space Coalition.

"While there may not be anything to purchase today, we need to be ready for tomorrow," she said.

Improving trail connectivity in the city's urban trail system is part of that mission, she said.

Part of parks planning should include how event organizers who use the parks can access the city's Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, said 17-year-old Jono Schwan, founder and chairman of the board of Sk8-Strong. He's working with the city on how to improve that process.

"Colorado Springs is home to the only fully public park in the nation that is capable of hosting international events in skateboardings' four major disciplines," said Schwan, who is planning two large skating events in the city. "It's not really help from the parks and rec that is needed, but better access to the LART funds that are actually set aside to do these kinds of things."

Lieber said the Parks Master Plan will include updating polices and access. Other ideas that have been floated include creating a park foundation to help pay for parks' needs; strengthening partnerships with organizations such as the YMCA; and helping promote events in city parks.

Lieber said the Parks Master Plan also will include a two-year action plan that lists the parks' most pressing needs.

"A big part of that is reaching out to the community and trying to understand the community's needs and values," Lieber said. "We recognize they change over time."

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PARK COMMUNITY MEETING

Park officials will host a community meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St. They want to hear residents' top priorities and concerns regarding city parks and services.

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PARKS SURVEY

Responses from park survey mailed to 1,600 residents and returned by 252.

• About 7 in 10 respondents recreated outdoors at least once a week in the past year; five of those seven recreated 2 to 4 times per week.

• About two-thirds of respondents are willing to travel up to 5.5 to 9 miles for indoor or outdoor recreation activities and 4 in 10 respondents are willing to travel up to 10 to 19 miles.

• 80 percent of respondents are satisfied with the recreation programs/activities offered by the city; 73 percent are satisfied with the trails system; and 62 percent are satisfied with the level of maintenance of the parks, open spaces and trails.

• Half or more felt that believe the amount of community gardens, places to fish, places to participate in winter sports and recreation places for people with special needs was “too little” or even “far too little.”

• 74 percent of respondents felt believe maintaining existing parks is “essential” or “very important.”

 

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