Preservation of the re-discovered greenback cutthroat trout figured heavily in Thursday’s Jones Park Master Plan development meeting.
Held at the Bear Creek Nature Center, the meeting gave residents an opportunity to provide input as to how the park might be improved. It was the first in a series of community meetings designed to provide citizens with the master plan process overview and collect input on proposed park improvements. About 50 people attended the meeting.
Located west of Colorado Springs within the Bear Creek Watershed, the 1,200-acre Jones Park is bordered by U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) and Colorado Springs lands. The park boasts about five miles of biking, hiking and equestrian trails, and is home to the only genetically pure population of greenback cutthroat trout on the planet.
El Paso County Parks and Recreation has contracted with Altitude Land Consultants (ALC) to coordinate developing a master plan for the 1,200-acre site. ALC representative Jeff Webb talked about the master plan and Jones Park history and invited input.
According to Webb, CSU in 2015 transferred park ownership and management to El Paso County Parks. The condition of the transfer included completing and implementing Easement Assessment, National Environmental Policy Act and U.S. Forestry Service final decision recommendations.
The Easement Assessment and Forestry Service final decision was completed in 2016. In 2017, the Captain Jack’s Area Trail System that encompasses much of Jones Park was re-routed and opened to the public, and the Jones Conservation Easement was created.
Webb asked citizens what makes Jones Park unique and what can be done to improve the park. One woman said she is attracted to the parks’ quiet and wildlife inhabitants; one man said he enjoys the parks’ multi-use recreation opportunities. Another attendee said he likes having motorized access to the parks’ more scenic areas and another suggested adding more trails.
According to Webb, long-term planning focuses on recreation planning and user experience, education and interpretation, open space stewardship, partnerships and funding as well as protecting the environment, cultural and historic resources. “We’re building on this great history through careful, extensive planning,” Webb said.
Webb is especially concerned about preserving the trout. Originally thought to have gone extinct in the 1930s, the trout was re-discovered in 2012 as the only known population of genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout on the planet. The discovery was celebrated as a story of survival and immediately made the Bear Creek Watershed an area of intense focus, according to Webb.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to protect the trout and the suit that triggered an Easement Assessment and Federal NEPA process. The Federal Government has listed the fish as a threatened species, Webb said. “Everything we do is under the guise of the greenback cutthroat trout, which is unique to the community,” Webb said.
According to Webb, the Jones Park Master Plan won’t take any action that might adversely impact the trout. However, it will provide balanced planning for sustainable and multi-use recreation, and lasting environmental and cultural resource preservation.
Other master plan opportunities include looking into potential new park trails and routes, and balancing the desire for trails with need for trout protection and Easement Assessment guidance.
“Recreation and tourism have played a big part in the parks’ existence. However, preservation also is an issue requiring attention,” Webb said.
Friends of the Peak board member Susan Jarvis said some people don’t like change and are “up in arms” about the project. “Many people complain but don’t attend the meetings to find out what is going on. They can be more actively engaged if they get involved,” said Jarvis whose organization exists to promote awareness of and education about Pikes Peak.
Tim Wolken, executive director of El Paso County Community Services, said working on this project has been an interesting journey. “We have discussed how the park can be best used and the next meeting will begin launch of the master plan,” he said.
A Jones Park public survey will be conducted at a date to be determined, Webb said. To learn more contact County Parks at 520-7529.