GUEST COLUMN:
Hwy 24 Greenway worth considering
By Dave Hughes

       One offshoot of the controversial Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) US24 planning exercise is a sub-project called, loosely, the “Greenway” Project. The Greenway is the name CDOT has given to plans for what the Fountain Creek corridor on both sides of US24 could be like in the future.
       I agreed to be the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) board representative on the collaborative effort over several months. Working with CDOT planners, stakeholders from the city, county, Manitou Springs, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Friends of Red Rock Canyon, OWN, the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group and the Westside in general are formulating ideas for what that area could look like and how it could serve other than car-bound travelers between I-25 and Manitou.
       Now, I am very skeptical about the whole costly CDOT planning exercise for both the highway and the Greenway Project. However, I am willing to suspend disbelief and go through the independent Greenway planning process itself for one overarching reason. If US24 is upgraded and altered, under any of the schemes being debated, sooner or later there must be an accompanying plan carried out for how to handle the myriad issues - the 100-year flood plain, for example - before anything can change drastically.
       One thing I don't want to see is a plan implemented without public imagination and input by engineers whose tendency is to do things in ways that are the most efficient, not necessarily the most community-serving - much less, soul satisfying. Few Westsiders knew they dodged a bullet in 1973 when the city, reflecting only a technical solution, made a plan to handle Fountain Creek and its flooding problems with a big ugly concrete ditch all the way from Manitou to Monument Creek, passing by and ignoring the Westside. Somewhat like the Camp Creek ditch through Pleasant Valley, it would have been functional but unappealing. Fortunately it was never built.
       But we still have a Fountain Creek full of tires and beer bottles, grassless medians and the remains of Colorado City's unappetizing, if historic, industrial past. It is one of the ugliest approaches to Colorado Springs from the mountains, or from I-25 to the mountains, that I can imagine for 'beautiful' cities at the base of Pikes Peak.
       I tried to get some “beautification” of that corridor through OWN some 20 years ago. Some things were done and the first Midland Plan was drafted. But there is no comprehensive vision. And little was done.
       The Greenway meetings so far have produced three broad, citizen-generated theme alternatives- Restoration, Gateway and Creekwalk - or combinations of these in different stretches and sides of that five-mile-long corridor. Greenway planning is somewhat independent of the US24 highway planning itself. Parts of the Greenway, funded by very different entities, public or private may be implemented before, during, or after the highway is modified. Some of it already has been - such as the Midland Trail along the old D&RG railroad right away.
       In all cases, Fountain Creek has to be dealt with, because of its flooding potential and water-quality issues. A Greenway can turn some of it into wooded walkways, even fishing ponds, wetlands, uncontaminated water, or a creekwalk - all accessible by Westsiders either walking, biking, driving to and from it. Also, visitors can drive to it from off the highway, pulling in at rest stops where interpretive signs and even solar-powered, short- range Wi-Fi broadcast stations can use web illustrations to tell about such historic Westside industries as the great Golden Cycle and other gold mills, the legendary Midland Railroad, the Czechoslovakian green- glass factory in the Midland area and the Hassell Decorative Iron Works.
       Among the ideas for the Greenway space have been ballfields, even a small amphitheater. Certainly signage will be important, which also invites those on the highway to turn off, park, picnic, and sample the business heart of Old Colorado City and its lodgings. It just takes vision and will.
       These are just my personal views. The position of OWN on the plans will be made by the board. Meanwhile dream a little and offer your own suggestions, Westsiders.
      
       Editor's note: The next Greenway open house will be Thursday, March 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the CPCD-Head Start Office, 2330 Robinson St. in Colorado Springs. For more information, call 477-4970.