$650,000 Bid May Become City’s Most Ambitious Land Acquisition Plan
For years, Ute Pass residents have enjoyed hiking through the wilderness in nearby areas and discovering exquisite and rare views.
And even though many of the local trails have experienced significant traffic for large amounts of time, some of the routes surrounding Woodland Park are considered “social trails.” That means they are basically formed by hikers and aren’t located on publicly accessible lands.
As a result, they could get shut down, if new landowners decide to block trails that go through their land, or if a current owner has a change in heart about people trekking across part of their property. Plus, in recent years, more conflicts have occurred between landowners and recreation users, capped by lawsuits and trail closures.
This growing phenomenon has now infiltrated Woodland Park, and especially for a key area near King’s Crown Road, which went up for sale. Some residents fear these liabilities could shut down hiking routes used by many locals.
In an effort to prevent the closure of the popular trail system that runs east and south of city limits, the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) started working on an overall action plan. After researching and discussing the topic, PRAB came up with a solution and proposed that the city should purchase the land in question and turn it into open space. If implemented, this would become the most ambitious land acquisition for a local government since Teller County acquired a good portion of Catamount Ranch.
During the final council meeting of the 2023, PRAB Member Chris Gonzales presented to council the proposal regarding the purchase of the property. “When this came across my desk, I know that it was a once in a generation opportunity, not only for recreation but also for education and preservation,” Gonzales said.
The land in question is located on the east and southeast edge of town next to the city’s Paradise Open Space. Gonzales said that the opportunity to purchase the land would not only be essential in preserving the trails, but it could also give the city the chance to add more trails and recreation options to the area.
As a part of the research process, PRAB posted a survey at the trailhead that receives over 650 weekly visits to get input from the community. He said that locals make up for 80 percent of the visitors with the remaining coming from other communities.
Some of the comments they received on the survey included: “I proposed to my wife on this trail,” and “We’ve hiked these trails almost every day for 26 years. It would be a tragic loss if these were closed.”
PRAB Chair Jeff Webb then talked to city council about how the proposed acquisition of land will align with the park’s Master Plan that will shape the next 10 years of parks and recreation development in the community. “We have the chance to do something that will transform recreation, preservation, and outdoor use in our community,” Webb said.
Some of the major themes in the master plan were that the public wanted more trails and more opportunities for outdoor recreation. Preservation and stewardship of lands was also an important sentiment that residents wanted in the master plan.
The PRAB chair then presented a chart that consisted of 10 criteria that the city and PRAB looks at when they consider acquiring land for open space. The proposed acquisition of what is called the “Avenger Open Space” fit all of the criteria making the land high value for the city to purchase.
City Seeks Grant to Pay For Majority of Land Purchase
Towards the end of the meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Keating gave a presentation about a grant the city wants to pursue from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to purchase the land. The PRAB proposed that the city pay a total of $650,000 for the 120 acres of land with the bulk of the funds hopefully coming from the GOCO grant.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to allow the Parks and Recreation Department to pursue the GOCO grant for over $523,000 with a match of 31 percent. The city would then have to dish out $150,000 and then another $80,000 is expected to come through community fundraising. According to Keating, one community member has already offered a $20,000 donation for the land acquisition.
However, even though the council was in favor of the acquisition, there were several questions that got brought up by council members and residents. But most of the issues will not be addressed until the grant is acquired and the council has officially approved the land purchase.
Woodland Park resident Mike Nakai spoke out during public comment and raised some concerns he had with the possible land acquisition. Nakai said that parking could become an issue, and that traffic may spill out into the neighborhood around King’s Crown Road.
He expressed concerns about fire mitigation and who would be paying for it. “I just hope we go into this with our eyes wide open financially and in a responsible manner,” Nakai said.
Despite the excessive comment on this issue, nothing is set in stone regarding the possible land acquisition deal. If GOCO accepts the grant application, then the issue would come back to city council for a public hearing to approve the land purchase.