Top Westside stories of 2004
Red Rock Canyon: From purchase to public space in 1 year

       The creation of Red Rock Canyon Open Space leads the list for the Westside Pioneer's top stories of 2004 on the Westside. Like our number 2 story - Gold Hill Mesa - it belies the adage that public involvement leads to delays in projects. City Parks administrators, like the Gold Hill Mesa developers, worked hard to get citizen feedback to their plans, and the results have proven successful for both.
       In all, we picked 20 topics for our list, and summaries of each one follow.
      
       1. Red Rock Canyon Open Space. A year ago at this time, the ink was scarcely dry on the $12.5 million sale from the Bock family (which had owned the nearly 800 acres for some 80 years) to the City of Colorado Springs.
       In the 12 months since, City Parks has hired planning consultants, conducted a series of public meetings, finalized a master plan, organized volunteer trail-building and cleanup days, worked with rock climbers to develop routes, graded a parking lot, hired a park ranger and opened the property to the public in late October. There was a hefty citizen turnout for the meetings, just as there has been solid attendance at the park on all but the coldest of days since it opened, with the parking lot filled to overflowing on occasion.
       The coming year promises continued improvements at the property, with the expectation of more trails, possibly a second trailhead, and the development of the master-planned leashless-dog and trick-bicycling areas. Three trailheads are planned in all, with one off 31st Street just south of Highway 24 and another off 26th Street a short distance north of Gold Camp Road.
       No visitors' center is foreseen at present. The Bock family house, which some had suggested for that purpose, would require about a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade to modern standards, according to City Parks. Unless some group steps forward with a plan to pay that cost and move into the building, City Parks officials have proposed demolishing the 37-year-old structure, for which no historic or architectural significance has been identified.
       The transformation of Red Rock from private to public land was handled through Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS), an arm of City Parks that uses the city's .01-percent open-space sales tax. Red Rock Canyon is located south of Highway 24 between the Westside's Midland area and Manitou Springs' Crystal Hills area.
      
       2. Gold Hill Mesa - This was one of those stories that was mostly talk in 2004, as developer Robert Willard and his engineers worked out issues with the city; however, all that should change early and fast in 2005. In January and February, grading is expected to take place in preparation for a 214-acre residential/commercial development on the site of what was once the Westside's largest gold mill.
       Willard, manager of an investment group titled Gold Hill Mesa Township LLC, has told the Westside Pioneer he expects the grading to occur primarily in the upper part of the property, on the 56-acre Phase 1 area north of Lower Gold Camp Road. By summertime, the first houses could be going in. Phase 1 calls for 306 homes - 168 in Filing 1 and 138 in an as-yet-unscheduled Filing 2 just west of it. The filings will be north of Lower Gold Camp Road, on a total of about 52 acres.
       Also in 2005, Willard expects to begin drainage-control work that will stop chemical seepage from the old gold-mill tailings pile into Fountain Creek and improve the flow of the creek itself.
      
       3. The 2004 election (individuals) - Sallie Clark rebounded from her defeat in the 2003 city mayoral race to win the District 3 county commissioner seat in the Nov. 2 election. The Westside Republican will be sworn in as the new District 3 county commissioner at a ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, January 11 at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. A bed-and- breakfast owner and long-time Westside volunteer leader, Clark replaces term-limited, 12-year commissioner veteran Chuck Brown. She has pledged to find ways to improve communications between commissioners and the public and to push for hiring a county auditor to ensure county budgets make financial sense. Clark, who previously served on City Council from 2001-2003, was unopposed in the general election when her Democrat opponent dropped out. Clark had won an easy victory in the Republican primary over Jack Gloriod.
       Re-elected to the Colorado Legislature was Democrat Michael Merrifield, who won a second two-year term in District 18, which includes the Westside. After trouncing Republican Kent Lambert as part of a statewide Democrat sweep to power, the Manitou Springs resident was named the Colorado Legislature's Education Committee chair. Merrifield, who maintains an “outreach” office on West Colorado Avenue, remains the only Democrat from El Paso County in the Legislature.
      
       4. The 2004 election (ballot issues) - Seven Westside transportation projects are among the $446.45 million in projects scheduled for completion over the next 10 years under the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which voters approved in the election. Westsiders, like most El Paso County residents, will be paying a 1 percent sales tax for the work. Four of the Westside projects have been given an “A” priority, meaning they will be constructed first. These are at Fillmore Street (widening from I-25 to Centennial Boulevard ), Garden of the Gods Road (intersection upgrade at Chestnut Street) and the 25th Street bridge over Fountain Creek (replacement) and 30th Street (left turn into the Navigators facility). Lower-priority Westside work will be at Uintah Street (widening for a sidewalk and a bike lane from Mesa Road to Cooper Street), Garden of the Gods Road (intersection upgrade at Forge Road) and Centennial Boulevard (help in funding its extension from Fillmore to Fontanero Street at I-25).
       Failing to pass in the election was funding authorization for a $131.7 million District 11 bond issue that would have included $16.7 million in building improvements at the 13 Westside public schools. Because the bond issue itself was approved, the Board of Education has been considering a future election to win voter approval for the funding, but no date has been announced.
      
       5. I-25 widening - Construction is likely to begin this summer on the $150 million Phase 1 of this project, which will continue into 2008 and include building a new Bijou Street interchange and widening the interstate to three lanes through central Colorado Springs. During 2004, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) released a draft Environ-mental Impact Statement (ESI) for the full project - estimated to cost about $500 million and include a new interchange at Cimarron Street. However, funding has only been authorized for Phase 1 at this time. After taking public comments on the ESI last spring, CDOT applied for and received a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which amounts to a building permit for the project. Going into 2005, CDOT was closing in on hiring a contractor for the work.
      
       6. High-way 24 up-grades - In November, CDOT and its consultants hosted the first of what will be a series of meetings/ workshops to gather public ideas on how the Highway 24 corridor can do a safer, more efficient job of moving traffic in the future. The state has presented no draft plans as yet. Citizen suggetions at the first meeting included widening the highway, adding bus or light rail capabilities, putting in pedestrian overpasses to minimize community separation and, in all upgrade scenarios, preserving Westside integrity. The next meeting is scheduled Jan. 20 at the West Center, 25 N. 20th St., from 5:30 to 8 p.m. A final plan is not expected to be hammered out for at least two years; also, no construction funding has been authorized yet.
      
       7. Honors for Dave Hughes - Newcomers to the area may think this man's exploits are being exaggerated, but the truth is he followed a distinguished Army career - including decorations for combat in the Korean and Vietnam wars - with leadership roles in worldwide computer technology and what amounted to the resurrection of Old Colorado City in the late '70s and '80s. Now 76, Hughes is beginning to reap the recognition commensurate with the extent of his public service. In May, he was awarded the Distinguished Graduate award by his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, becoming one of just 53 so honored since 1802.
       This honor was followed in August by his being named the grand marshal of this year's Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, then in November the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) nominated him for a 2005 Colorado Preservation Individual Award, based on his volunteer efforts for OCCHS' History Center and for Westside history in general. Not one to rest on his laurels, Hughes recently rejoined the board of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), the local advocacy group he helped found about 25 years ago.
      
       8. Westside historic overlay - The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) thinks it's high time to set up a formal mechanism to identify historic buildings on the Westside and to support property owners who want to restore/maintain them. In 2004, the neighbor association began fund-raising and research toward creating an accurate building inventory, and has been in discussions with Colorado Springs Planning officials on how to set up a historic overlay like the Old North End Neighborhood has under the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Tim Scanlon, a city planner who is assigned half-time to historic- preservation issues, told the Westside Pioneer this week he hopes to work with OWN on applying for a grant in 2005 that would fund the inventory cost. There are estimated to be as many as 4,000 historic buildings (commercial as well as residential) on the Westside. Most of the Old Colorado City shopping area between the 2400 and 2700 block of Colorado Avenue has previously been designated as a historic district.
      
       9. Angler's Covey - For 18 years, it was a little fly-fishing store, tucked away in a converted house on West Colorado Avenue. But in 2004, Angler's Covey owner Dave Leinweber moved forward on an ambitious plan for a large new building at a prominent intersection of the Westside. After months of design debates with city planners, the store won approval in September for a new store that will have 5,000 square feet in floor space and stand roughly 30 feet high at the northeast corner of Highway 24 and 21st Street, next to Fountain Creek. Part of the debate concerned the methods he would use to mitigate stormwater on the creek; the eventual solution allows him to retain several old cottonwood trees. The public may also be appreciative in the future that Angler's Covey is including a trail along the creek. In future years, as the Gold Hill Mesa subdivision goes in, that trail could continue east along the creek to link up with the Midland or Monument Valley trails. Grading and other property preparation began shortly after city approval. A building permit was granted just before Christmas. Leinweber told the Westside Pioneer he now hopes to have the store open by May or June.
      
       10. New Old Colorado City streetlights - This topic probably would have received a higher ranking if the lights had actually been installed - as originally anticipated - before Christmas. However, a slow response from a city supplier resulted in a delay that means the lights won't go in now until mid-January. The plan calls for historic-looking streetlights to replace 34 the city has had on the avenue for about 50 years, and to install 7 new ones. According to Utilities, the overall effect will be a brighter Old Colorado City at night.
      
       11. Gold Camp Road - After several public meetings in 2004, the United States Forest Service (USFS) plans to announce its “preferred alternative” Jan. 10 for reopening a segment of Gold Camp Road that would allow it to carry traffic again between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. The 8.5-mile segment has been closed for 16 years. During that time, hikers, bikers and motorcylists have gotten to like the scenic, no-car environment; but their calls to keep the road closed have been opposed by locals who believe that reopening the narrow gravel road to through traffic would make the area accessible to far more people.
      
       12. Old Colorado City Branch Library - The library celebrated the 100-year anniversary of its Greek-style Carnegie building in 2004. Meanwhile, library administrators were just starting to implement a $1.7 million repair plan for the venerable structure when unexpected ceiling problems forced a reconsideration of the work priorities. A planning grant, awarded late this fall, will pay for an architect to create revised renovation plans. Private fund-raising for the work also continues.
      
       13. Buena Vista Montessori - After months of effort, led by several dedicated parents, the first Montessori program ever offered in District 11 started at Buena Vista Elementary this fall. Currently, about 50 of the school's students from ages 3 to 9 are enrolled in the program, which uses a variety of tools and activities to allow children to learn at their own pace.
       The response has been so good that the district has told Principal Alan Rasmussen it will increase program funding in the 2005- 06 school year to add a class for ages 9 to 12.
       14. Fire task force - In the 1990s, Westsiders fought to keep Fire Station 3 from being closed. Then, last spring, Fire Chief Manuel Navarro announced a plan that would relocate certain stations; the plan included moving Station 3 and making it chief responder to the downtown. Upon City Council direction, four Westsiders served on two task forces during 2004 to consider the relocation idea as well as long-range plans for future stations. The conceptual plans include seven new Westside stations over the next 20 years.
      
       15. Midland Trail - The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad used to rumble through the Westside, on a route a little north of the old Midland line, whose route long ago became the Midland Expressway (Highway 24). In 2004, the D&RG's old right of way (in combination with easements obtained by Colorado Springs Parks) became a multi-use trail, and Parks named it the Midland Trail. The 16-foot wide, concrete/dirt path goes from 21st Street east under I-25 to Confluence Park. A future extension west to Manitou is being studied.
      
       16. Penrose Equestrian Center - The center will have new ownership in 2005. Taking over the reins of the 61-acre facility on West Rio Grande Street will be the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation, which puts on the annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo and had been instrumental in moving Penrose Stadium to the center in 1972. El Paso County had been looking to sell the property because of an inability to turn a profit. The foundation plans to make at least $2 million in improvements, starting early in '05.
      
       17. Planned Parenthood - As the new year approached, Colorado Springs Planning was still waiting for the private agency to submit development plans for an announced expansion at 1330 W. Colorado Ave. Planned Parenthood works with pregnant women, providing options including abortion. This controversial service, along with issues of neighborhood compatibility and historic preservation - three older, adjacent houses might be demolished for the expansion - attracted a large crowd of project opponents to a public meeting last June.
      
       18. Old Colorado City events - Numerous events brought life to Old Town in 2004, most of them sponsored by the local merchants group, the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) including the annual, hugely popular Territory Days. The general public enjoyed several summer Saturdays that offered both a craft fair and the Farmers Market; however, OCCA is concerned about the crafters hurting their business, and City Parks is seeking a compromise on who can reserve which Saturdays.
      
       19. Centennial Boulevard development - A new King Soopers went in at Centennial and Fillmore Street, and, in the Holland Park area, townhomes were being built on the north (84) and south (25) sides of the major thoroughfare in 2004. An office development including a medical campus and a quarter-mile southerly extension of Centennial, has been proposed south of Centennial and Fillmore. A segment of the future Centennial between Fillmore and I-25 is being built farther south as part of the Indian Hills subdivision.
      
       20. Section 16 lease grant - Colorado Springs Parks secured a grant that allows this scenic, 640-acre parcel above the Westside to remain open space for the next five years. The city had hoped to buy the property outright, using Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) money with help from a state grant and some county assistance, but a judge's decision nullifying voters' approval of the TOPS tax extension after 2009 nixed the city grant request.

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