Manitou Residents Protest Removal of Trees; Seek Project Moratorium

Gabriel Paulson

Manitou Springs, which was recently recertified as a tree city, has marked a slew of trees for removal along a stretch of road along Beckers Lane. This  is part of a major $2 million-plus project to widen the bridge to allow for the installation of sidewalks and the undergrounding of utilities.

But the project has encountered stern criticism by local residents who recently protested the removal of approximately dozen trees.  The protesters were hoping the city council would put a moratorium on the tree removal.

Local resident Rick Larson and the Manitou Springs Climate Action Work Group held the rally last month.

The trees, located on the east side of Beckers Lane adjacent to the Mustang Field baseball diamond, were scheduled to be removed as part of the project.

Larson hoped that the protest would delay the project long enough for the city and Manitou School District 14, which owns the baseball field and the adjacent parking lot. One solution to saving the trees would be to run the utility lines under the parking lot rather than burying them along the side of the road, where the trees are currently standing.

The Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority is funding the Beckers Lane Project at a cost of $2.14 million. The project was conceived in 2016 with the primary goal of widening the bridge over Fountain Creek to make the area more user-friendly for those using the trail.

The project also aims to improve bicycle safety along Beckers Lane by relocating the Creek Walk Trail crosswalk to an area farther north; underground the water and utility lines; install lighting on the bridge and portions of Beckers Lane and El Paso Boulevard; and to enhance the beauty of the area, which serves as one of several gateways to Garden of the Gods.

The project was widely discussed during several community meetings and online public discussions throughout the fall that were conducted by Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority and city officials with Manitou’s Planning Department.

Larson is a resident of Beckers Lane and has long been an outspoken opponent of the project from its conception and has long been against removal of the trees, which are all located on the east side of the street. In the past, branches have been removed or altered to accommodate overhead power lines and the lack of proper structure within the tree’s branches has imperiled their health and growth, according to information released by an arborist hired by the city prior to beginning the construction project.

“Why are we hiring outside tree experts in the first place,” Larson argued. “We have dedicated local master gardeners who have reported to city administration that these trees should not have to die an untimely death for the sake of this project to be a success.”

He said that citizens cannot sit back and do nothing and allow this type of blight to continue unabated.

Not Just Any City USA

“We cannot just allow ourselves to become any city USA,” he said. “We need to demand that these trees remain to help preserve our town’s irreplaceable trees and habitat. We are a tree city and deserve to maintain that recognition.”

According to the plans for the project, all the trees on the west side of Beckers Lane will remain intact and project organizers intend to have additional trees planted along the west side of the street, as well as pollinator-friendly shrubs and perennials as part of a proposed 500-square-foot landscaping project.

Despite the recent controversy, the project will change the appearance of the area. The bridge itself will be lit with 10-foot-tall lights matching the style of the new lamp posts along Manitou Avenue, but will have a lower wattage to avoid light pollution in the surrounding neighborhood.

Six more decorative lights are planned between the bridge and El Paso Boulevard, with four on the east side and two on the west side, which are designed to light only the ground and not the sky.

The new bridge will be about 35 feet wide, which is almost double the current 20-foot width of the existing bridge, according to the project’s architect.

The architect added that a silt fence and erosion-control logs will be added at the edge of the construction zone to protect existing vegetation at the site. The green areas disturbed by construction will be reseeded and steep slopes near Fountain Creek will have erosion-control blankets added.

The Creek Walk Trail crossing will be relocated farther to the north, which will give drivers improved visibility of pedestrians and bicyclists at the spot where the road turns.