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Hikers look out over Ute Valley Park with a view of Pikes Peak to their backs on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (The Gazette, Parker Seibold)

A new document aims to position itself as "the boldest vision and plan yet for land conservation and outdoor recreation in the Pikes Peak region."

That's the self-description of Elevate the Peak, a product of Palmer Land Conservancy recently published after more than a year of surveying and roundtables with nonprofit leaders, elected officials, land managers and concerned residents from El Paso, Teller and Fremont counties.

With 45 years in the conservation business and an annual budget exceeding $2.5 million, Palmer Land Conservancy President and CEO Rebecca Jewett considered her agency as facilitator and fiscal steward of the initiative. The organization secured grant money for a contractor to compile feedback and translate that into a set of key findings, challenges and suggested strategies.

"There has been a need for a very long time to take more of a landscape type of view for this area, a comprehensive type of view," Jewett said.

The idea, she said, is to set the stage for more collaboration that combines creative thinking and resources across jurisdictions. The Elevate the Peak report suggests that approach can come closer to realizing bigger conservation and recreation goals. Connected landscapes could be made more resilient to fire, for example, and trail projects could be helped to benefit the region's broader tourism economy and quality of life.

Too often, these concepts play out in "silos," Jewett said.

"There are so many grand projects that get put out there in this region," she said, "and what I've seen in the 15 years I've been working in the conservation field here is that we haven't always been successful, because these projects tend to happen on a one-off basis, and then they compete against each other."

Specifically, the report takes aim at funding mechanisms that are either missing or too narrow across the region. While Douglas, Jefferson, Boulder and Larimer counties have programs funneling sales tax portions to conservation and recreation, this part of the Front Range lacks such a robust funder, the report noted.

The local counterpart is the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program within city of Colorado Springs limits. Despite TOPS, "the city reports a capital improvement backlog in the hundreds of millions of dollars," the report notes, indicating the $270 million identified in the Jacobs Study.

The report adds: "Organizations and initiatives that are reliant on public or philanthropic funding tend to operate with a zero-sum mindset that can incentivize competition for limited resources over cooperation toward a shared outcome."

Beyond county-level programs, the report recommends a regional conservation fund and/or a regional parks district, modeled after regional transportation authorities.

Those could be useful in bridging an equity gap, according to the report, which found outdoor access and quality park infrastructure lacking for low-income communities and people of color. Feedback reinforced that need, Jewett said.

"While this was a community-informed plan," she said, "a lot of what this is a mandate and marching orders for those of us who do this work and for elected officials and funders."

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(1) comment

Sojourner

Wow! An NGO thinks we should get taxed more for their pet projects?? Who could've seen that coming??

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