Flocks of sandhill cranes and snowy egrets circle over the prairie to land on Big Johnson Reservoir. Just a few months ago the grassy hills around the reservoir were slated for a fresh layer of tract housing. In the tradition of developers, who like to name their creations after what they have just paved over, the place was going to be called Waterside Estates. That was until Jane Titus got involved. Now you can call it one of your city parks. As a board member of the Trails and Open Space Coalition (TOSC), Titus spearheaded the movement to preserve the open space that surrounds the reservoir.
Could you describe the land? The unique features are the interaction of the water with the prairie and what I call the bowl effect. When you are down on the property, you see the prairie and the peaks, and you don't see much else. The hills hide the city. That's really pleasant. It's home to coyotes, antelope, prairie dogs, hawks, owls, and it's a stopping place for migratory birds that come through -- 140 species, sometimes over 2,000 birds in one day.
Has the eastern part of Colorado Springs been neglected as far as open space purchases? I don't want to geographically divide the community. The fact is that there have been some great projects and they have occurred on the foothills. It makes sense, though, to try to identify and preserve all the different habitats. We hadn't done a prairie habitat or a purchase in the southeastern part of the city, so that clearly lent political impetus to the project. But a lot of the people who enjoy that area don't live in the southeast part of town. A good open-space project, accessible to the whole community, will be good for everyone.
Is the city doing enough to protect open space? I'm sure they could do more, but the city has really come a long way. We have better ordinances in place for funding parklands. Certainly the passing of the TOPS [Trails and Open Space] amendment was fantastic. The thing that we're running into is that we can't generate money fast enough to save parcels of land. Basically, we spent our money for the next three years on Big Johnson Reservoir, and if we get another big project, like Red Rocks, all the money will be gone. That's a big concern for everyone.
In 10 years will the open space situation be better? A lot of it has to do with the economy and the rapid growth we could experience. If things keep going great guns we'll have more pressure to build on the land, but we'll also have more tax revenue to purchase open space with. Hopefully, we could keep up with development. But if we don't pass another TOPS amendment we won't have a tool for saving our open space.
Will proposed Amendment 24 help protect open space? I'm not sure. It's a very complicated amendment. It will slow growth down, and in that sense we would have more time to purchase land, but if the dire consequences predicted occur and our sources of funding dry up, then we might not have the money to buy the land we want. As a community we haven't planned as well as we should have. I don't know if this [amendment] is an answer, but we definitely need to take a look at whether we want to encourage growth. The city has been courting growth with tax incentives. The city's role, I think, is to plan growth, not encourage it.