A bid by The Broadmoor to create a "boutique" horseback-riding experience — by building a stable and using trails in Bear Creek Regional Park — has residents bucking.
The five-star resort on the city's southwest side sealed a deal in December with El Paso County for unlimited use of the county park in exchange for a user fee of $1,500 per month for 20 years (read the contract at tinyurl.com/cobearcreek). But The Broadmoor also needs a zoning change, from residential to agriculture, on 8.6 acres across from the park where it plans to build a stable for 20 to 30 horses. And at a recent meeting, residents said they fear the horses would damage the trails and interfere with hikers and cyclists, and also pose nuisances such as manure and flies.
Neighborhood squabbles are nothing new for The Broadmoor. In 2013, it proposed closing Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard to expand its golf course. After neighbors protested, saying the road is a crucial exit in case of a wildfire, The Broadmoor bagged the idea.
But it's not likely the resort will fold this time.
Asked about residents' concerns, CEO Jack Damioli says, "There's a requirement to scatter manure, and we'll do that. We'll be good stewards of the park. I think The Broadmoor has always been a great neighbor and good stewards of any property."
The Broadmoor, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, has been expanding its offerings for travelers seeking an adventure, not just a vacation, says Damioli.
The Ranch at Emerald Valley, a rustic retreat. opened in 2013 on federal forest land south west of the hotel. Cloud Camp, with a main lodge and 11 cabins atop Cheyenne Mountain, launched last year. This spring, the resort will open a fly-fishing operation on the Tarryall River.
Damioli says the stable project would offer half-day to full-day rides through 545-acre Bear Creek Park to Jones Park and beyond, rather than "a string of horses ... nose to tail" within Bear Creek Park, which contains 10 miles of multi-purpose trails.
"We're getting people up into beautiful parts of our county that normally are not accessible," Damioli says. He adds, "When they travel to a destination, they want to feel what Colorado is about. We believe this is something that will be a boutique, unique, intimate riding experience for four, six or seven riders [at a time]."
The resort has relied on Academy Stables and Broadmoor Stables (not owned by The Broadmoor) to provide rides for guests in the past. The new stable would offer a different kind of amenity, he says. The resort bought the 8.6 acres for $1 million on Dec. 22, less than three weeks after inking a three-page agreement with the county for use of the park.
The county didn't conduct a formal public process prior to signing the agreement. But community services manager Tim Wolken did consult the county's Parks Advisory Board, county commissioners and several groups whom he says gave "favorable" comments.
The Trails and Open Space Coalition was one group that supported the idea but now is neutral on it, says coalition executive Susan Davies. She says Wolken originally told her the agreement would limit rides to two per day of up to 20 horses, which is also what he told the Parks Advisory Board.
"Now we learn from the [agreement with the county], that's not in there," she says. "Not that we don't think The Broadmoor won't be a good partner — they run a class operation. But if suddenly it's a horse park, it's not fair to the hikers and cyclists."
Davies is also concerned that $18,000 a year might not be enough to maintain the trails years from now.
The county's agreement requires The Broadmoor to build a trail connection from its stable to the park, "repair any physical damage" resulting from the rides, "scatter horse manure off trails," and open rides to the public. Damioli says no price for rides has been set.
By contrast, the city allows Academy Stables to use only specific trails in city-owned Garden of the Gods, which at $2.25 per ride generates between $26,000 and $34,000 annually, city spokeswoman Kim Melchor says in an email. The agreement also requires the stable to remove manure every 150 rides, among other requirements.
Citing Bear Creek Park's long history of equestrian use, County Commissioner Sallie Clark notes via email that plans indicate The Broadmoor, which will continue to rely on Academy and Broadmoor stables, will host about 75 rides per month during the eight months of good weather per year. "Our staff is comfortable that the current payment will initially be sufficient to address needed trail maintenance/repair," she says. "If we determine that the $18,000 is not sufficient to cover our costs, we will re-visit the payment schedule with the Broadmoor."
However, when asked about potentially amending the agreement, Damioli says, "I think we have a fair agreement with the county. We have told the county we will be good partners and partner with them on [an] operational plan to ensure everybody's opinions are heard."
To build the stable, The Broadmoor needs City Council's rezoning approval, for which public comment expires today. (Comment on the zoning proposal — tinyurl.com/p2ql7pc — to email@example.com.) Last week, about 50 people turned out on a snowy night for a public meeting at Bear Creek Nature Center about the proposal.
At least one person, Sandra Matthews, enthusiastically supports the stable. Her family has owned a 5.25-acre horse property east of The Broadmoor's tract since 1965, she says, and she prefers the stable to seeing 17 homes built there, which would be allowed under current zoning.
"This is the best chance we have of keeping it open space," Matthews says in an interview. "All the [immediate] neighbors agree with it and think it's a wonderful thing. There has never been a person-horse accident [in Bear Creek Park]. These horses are dead-broke, bomb-proof horses. Nothing's going to bother them."
But others asked lots of questions, including how many horses would be stabled there. Tim Seibert, owner of the N.E.S. architecture and planning company, promised only 20, though Damioli two days later told the Independent it could be up to 30.
Bob Wallace, who mountain bikes and walks his dog in the park, says the stable would have "a huge impact."
"There are way too many unanswered questions in my mind," he says in an email. "My feeling is that the majority of attendees think this is a done deal, the Broadmoor has way more influence over the outcome than a group of residents. I'm also unsettled that anyone can set up shop next to a park and run a commercial enterprise using the park as their own."
Cyndy Kulp, who lives a few blocks from the park, says so many horses would degrade the park and lead to conflicts with other users. "I don't know how anyone who considers themselves a conservationist would go along with it," she says.
Kulp says Friends of Bear Creek Park, of which she's a member, met Feb. 28 and proposed the county try to restrict rides to daylight hours, designate specific trails, limit rides to six horses each twice a day, require manure to be picked up, and build in escalating fee payments over time. After Wolken approached the resort with those changes, he reports via email, "We agreed that County Parks will be provided the opportunity to provide input on the development of the operations plan for the proposed equestrian facility." The agreement can't be changed except by mutual consent of the parties.
Last week, Seibert tried to reassure residents by saying, "This isn't a done deal."
To which one woman at the resident meeting replied, drawing applause: "Oh, we know better."