Colorado Springs has deal for quarry seen as key to Waldo Canyon return, new open space, bike park

Black Canyon Quarry is seen from an aerial flight over the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Photo Credit: Civil Air Patrol

Colorado Springs has prepared a blockbuster deal that could give multiple boosts to the Pikes Peak region’s outdoor recreation.

“I don’t know if we find enormous opportunities like this very frequently, when one property owner with such extensive holdings is willing to sell to the city for its recreational opportunities,” said Britt Haley, the city’s Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program manager, who led negotiations. “It’s really amazing.”

The most expensive piece of the $8.8 million in agreements with Castle Concrete Co. — close to the $9.5 million TOPS typically generates a year from sales tax revenues — is a grassy, oak-covered mosaic that has been eyed by housing developers in recent years.

With approval first from TOPS’ working committee and later from elected officials, the rolling 148 acres buffering the Pikeview Quarry would be preserved as open space, with trails overlooking the mountains on the city’s northwest side.

Another part of the deal with Castle is the Black Canyon Quarry, the scar atop foothills around Manitou Springs, bordering the scenic Waldo and Williams canyons. For $1.7 million, the city would acquire 193 acres that are seen as key to restoring long-awaited recreation in Waldo Canyon.

Black Canyon came into focus last year, when land managers presented it as a “game-changer” in public meetings with enthusiasts missing their favorite trail, lost by 2012’s wildfire. They sounded excited by the quarry, which they were told could be the “hub” for an ambitious trail system touring portions of Waldo’s formerly cherished loop path and other far-reaching wilds.

Still, even with the purchase’s approval by officials, they shouldn’t expect adventure there anytime soon.

The U.S. Forest Service, owner of the surrounding land, would launch lengthy reviews before any trails were built. Also, city planners have said the quarry’s access road — a narrow and rugged track beyond the road taken by Cedar Heights residents — is in need of repair. It would likely be another big investment, along with parking lot and trail construction costs that have yet to be sorted out.

It’s possible that hikers and mountain bikers would first realize the other agreed-upon acquisition, what the city is calling the “Pikeview frontage” property.

Seen along South Blodgett Open Space trails, the 148 acres are part of the city’s envisioned Mountain Shadows Open Space. The 2014 park system master plan refers to the spread “offer(ing) potential to extend open space and trail connectivity, serve growing recreation demands of city residents, and provide additional connections to the Pike National Forest.”

Instrumental to the hefty $6.6 million proposition is the Conservation Fund. The national nonprofit has pledged to partner with the city, similar to how it did in securing Ute Valley Park land previously owned by Hewlett-Packard.

Under the current agreement, the Conservation Fund would buy the whole “Pikeview frontage” and immediately sell 89 acres to the city. TOPS would have up to 18 months to buy the rest.

“It stretches our timeline out so that our dollars can cover more projects,” Haley said.

She said the land “checks all the boxes,” boasting the kind of terrain and viewshed the Springs’ outdoor-loving population demands. But visitors there might be put off by the Pikeview Quarry, where the city continues to see potential despite debates over the steep, unstable parcel being suitable for a bike park.

Though not contingent on the other deals, the city has agreed to take the quarry as a donation from Castle. That’s on the condition of the 100 acres being reclaimed and state approved.

“We’re very cautious to make sure this site is ready for public use, and we would never want to take it until we knew that to be the case,” Haley said. “A lot of work remains to be done.”

While The Gazette has analyzed Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety records consistently calling the flatter Black Canyon Quarry “stable” and “not subject to erosion” over the past two decades — mining was frequently deemed “dormant” over that time and stopped in 2015, Castle says — the picture has been murkier for Pikeview, which is notorious for rockslides.

Castle President Jerry Schnabel earlier this year told the newspaper reclamation could be complete within five years. But that timeline has been doubted by onlookers, who also question the strategy to backfill the scar from the bottom up.

That strategy has yet to be approved by the state, which holds a $15 million bond to ensure Castle completes the job up to snuff. Haley said the oversight gives her confidence.

“So that if anything were to go wrong, where the company either failed to do the reclamation or had to stop, the state could step in and pick it up,” she said. “Either way, I think it’s a fascinating vision for a former quarry to become a world-class bike facility.”

TOPS’ working committee is set to consider the proposals Wednesday. They would next go to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on May 14 and later to City Council.

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