A quarter-mile stretch of Fountain Creek on the western side of Colorado Springs westside that's long attracted homeless campers, is set to be turned into an outdoor classroom where students will learn how insects, fish and water quality function together in the ecosystem.
"We’ll transform that portion of the creek," said Jerry Cordova, the city's stormwater specialist.
The new vision for the property was made possible by a partnership between the neighboring fishing shop, Angler's Covey, and the city in a model that could be replicated as properties along Fountain and Monument creeks continues to redevelop, he said.
Lush with long grass after a wet spring, the stretch of stream headed for a new future wraps around behind Angler's Covey, from the 21st Street Bridge to the Cimarron Street Bridge. With no public access or lighting, the somewhat secluded section of stream has long drawn campers who leave the area littered with trash, said David Leinweber, owner of Angler's Covey and the founder of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance.
The trash is an ongoing problem and Friday morning, barstools and Old Colorado City banners among other trash had been left along the banks of the creek.
At the peak of the problem, the area would draw 50 to 75 people who would park vans at the 20th street cul-de-sac across from the business. The large crowds were a problem before the city embarked on more active camping enforcement, he said.
The turning point for Leinweber was a fire that started about three years ago when two propane bottles blew up on the north of the 21st Street while he was at the shop teaching a class.
"That's the day I said 'I can't ignore this anymore'," he said.
In recent years, he has been fairly active in reporting camps to the city and the problem has been dramatically reduced, he said. But now, the business and the city have a new solution that will not only keep the area free of camping, it will open it up to the public to enjoy.
Leinweber has leased the property for five years with the option to renew an agreement that allows him to secure the area, put in new seating to accommodate classes and work to improve stream health, with city assistance.
Leinweber was inspired to approach the city about an agreement after considering how businesses lease other unused properties from cities for parking lots and other private purposes that can serve a public good.
He has put in fencing around the property and expects to put up signs warning of new surveillance cameras, he said. The area will also need a deep clean, to clear it of any hazardous materials such as needles and booby traps. Then the trees and vegetation need to be trimmed back to make the area safe and functional.
New rock, provided by the city, will likely also be introduced to the stream channel to help create more habitat for fish and insects.
"I could put 100 fish in here. But if there's only four homes I am only going to have four fish," he said.
After the Waldo Canyon fire, fine sediment washed into the stream bed and made it tougher for insect life to thrive. The insects generally prefer a more rocky streambed, he said. The channel likely needs to be narrowed to help push the sediment downstream, he said.
A new trail down from the shop and amphitheater seating is also planned. Once the work is done, the area could be open to the general public, with the shop functioning as a gatekeeper, he said.
He expects it may be a year before the area is ready for classes, he said.
The shop's classes will likely focus on subjects such as stream insect life, fish habitat, how to find fish and stream dynamics.
Cordova also expects to use the space for education and appreciates that the shop is willing to share its parking lot and restrooms with city guests, Cordova said. Similar private-public partnerships could be possible along Monument and Fountain creeks particularly as Drake is decommissioned and property in that area redevelops, he said.
In the long-term, the city parks and recreation department has plans for a trail that would run behind Angler's Covey and connect the Midland Trail to Gold Hill Mesa, Leinweber said. He is open to the planned trail and it's possible a partnership could continue after its built.
When Leinweber turns the property back over to the city he hopes it will be a source of pride and a much healthier stretch of stream.
"How do I enhance the stream that some people want to call a storm water solution — where it's how quickly can we get rid of the water? Others like myself want to try to restore it to some kind of natural peace, that's going to be my biggest challenge," he said.