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Black Canyon quarry above Manitou Springs.

One year after a land buy seen as key to a return of recreation in once-beloved Waldo Canyon, patience remains the message for outdoor enthusiasts.

With Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales tax-generated revenues, the city of Colorado Springs last September closed on a $1.8 million deal with Castle Concrete for 163 acres that includes the Black Canyon quarry above Manitou Springs, adjacent to a formerly cherished area reached by a trail that was destroyed by the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. The purchase followed unanimous approval by City Council.

This summer, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety approved the city as the new operator responsible for the old gravel pit.

"Now the city's TOPS program is officially the one that is on point for doing all the reclamation," said Britt Haley, the program's manager.

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The clock has officially started for the city to finish the job within five years, according to the plan set by the state division of reclamation. Rules allow for that five-year timetable to be extended, said Chris Arend, a division spokesman.

While not at the steep grade of other quarries, some blasting and slope stabilization is listed under the plan. "The work required is straightforward," Arend said, "but site safety makes the job more difficult."

Revegetating is another unpredictable challenge.

"I don't think it will take the entire five years," Haley said. "It's not like that site is as daunting as perhaps other, more technical sites. But it does need to be reclaimed, and the question of reclamation is always moisture, and whether the native species that you plant will take hold."

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The quarry sits idle as Haley said she has yet to earmark enough money for reclamation, estimated to cost $400,000. Amid the pandemic, an approved TOPS budget for 2022 did not forecast enough funds for the work. But Haley said sales tax expectations have changed at the end of a busy summer — potentially $1 million more, she said, for the program collecting about $9.5 million every year.

"With such strong economic activity, I would ask (TOPS working committee and City Council) to identify this project for additional funding," Haley said. "Otherwise, it would be a 2023 budget priority. But I think we can get it sooner, just based on the strong economy."

The Black Canyon quarry is envisioned as the trailhead for a network of paths webbing Waldo and Williams canyons. While noting the "suitability for all recreation is not under consideration" by the division of reclamation, Arend said "parking lots and trail access appear to be well within the available use."

But some have questioned if reclamation should be the responsibility of TOPS, the voter-approved program meant to secure open space.

"This is a beautiful open space with all of the open space attributes that have been identified by TOPS," Haley said. "Replacing that native vegetation, providing for that native wildlife, providing the benefit of recreation trails, that is exactly what TOPS does."

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