Bear Creek Regional Park

Kids and their parents take a nature walk at Bear Creek Regional Park.

What can you buy for $2.93? DVD rental for one day, 1.5 gallons of gas, a small cup of coffee. In El Paso County you get an entire year’s worth of “park.”

Let me explain: if you take the county’s general fund budget, divide it by the number of people living in the county, and narrow it down to the small percentage allotted to county parks, trails, nature centers and open space, you arrive at $2.93 per person per year.

Sounds minuscule, doesn’t it? It is compared with most other counties along the Front Range where the per capita contribution to these budget items is $5-$7 per person. That’s still a pretty good deal when you consider that amounts to a couple of pennies per day.

Here in El Paso County ,we pay less for our outdoor amenities now than we did in 2003 when it was $4.60 per person per year. Such a drop in funding is even more egregious when you consider that county parks staff has more acres of park and open space to take care of and more miles of trails to tend.

With such a meager budget, staff recently told the county’s Parks Advisory Board that the goal is to keep our parks “reasonably safe … not award winning.” How very depressing that sounds.

Here we are celebrating our new, one-of-a-kind Olympic Museum and, in 2021, welcoming a world-class Pikes Peak Summit House and the reopening of the Cog Railway. Do we need to inform new residents and visitors to get out and enjoy county parks, trails and nature centers but to only expect a “reasonably safe” experience?

I appreciate the honesty of county parks staff. Anyone who has served on the Parks Advisory Board or attends the meetings is well-aware of their high level of commitment and hard work. But you can only squeeze so much blood out of a turnip.

Over the past six months, all our parks and trails have seen a surge in usage. Because the outdoors is one of the safest and healthiest places for us to be, families are turning to their parks for recreation, relaxation and celebrations. You’ll see friends hanging hammocks in Fox Run Park and birthday party picnics in Bear Creek Park.

Such sights certainly make park staff swell with pride. The flip side, of course, is there’s more trash to collect, more graffiti to deal with and more dog waste along the trails.

County parks has received a limited amount of COVID-relief funding to deal with the increase in users. Such emergency funding does nothing to change the long-term trend of diminishing dollars for valuable resources.

“Reasonably safe” should not be an acceptable standard.

Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

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