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Springs is including bike trails in stormwater project

Riders on the stormwater

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Allen Beauchamp enjoys long rides in Sand Creek on his fat bike. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Allen Beauchamp enjoys long rides in Sand Creek on his fat bike.

It is, perhaps, the least likely locale for a party, but people have arrived by the dozens.

They are congregating around stands with burritos and coffee, chatting as their breath freezes in the air, and examining poster boards that show stormwater drainages. It is 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday in the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Flea Market on East Platte Avenue, and the crowd has shown up to ride fat bikes — essentially mountain bikes with giant tires — through the frozen bed of Sand Creek below.

Nearby, positioned in the creekbed, bike advocate Allen Beauchamp hits his brakes and looks around.

"I love the view that you get of your city [from a creekbed]," he says, leaning on the seat of his fat bike, "and it's a completely raw look."

Fat bikes are unique in that they essentially float on the sand, causing little damage. City staffers, who had noticed that fat bikers were hitting this area anyway, decided to find out if it was worth making the arrangement official by hosting this event on Global Fat Bike Day.

Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Division manager, says that like other cities, the Springs is looking at how to build trails as it repairs stormwater drainages. And while the fat bike area here isn't permanent right now, the city is looking at creating an official area in conjunction with a $5.3 million stormwater project — if fat bikers explain what they want.

"Were just a bunch of engineers over here," he says. "Frankly, we would like the public's input on what this should look like."

Really, this could be seen as the kickoff of the rebranding of a multi-million dollar problem. Stormwater has long been a headache for Colorado Springs, and the city has asked voters repeatedly to pay more to fix failing drainage systems. But stormwater isn't sexy; it's a tough sell to voters. Trails are another story.

"People want to be out here on our trails — that is the No. 1 thing people want to do in this community," City Councilor Jill Gaebler told the Independent at the event. "If we can kill two birds with one stone by creating really good stormwater infrastructure and creating a great amenity for bicyclists, I say we need to go for it."

Sand Creek at Platte Avenue has eroded about 20 feet, putting the bridge at risk and causing private property owners like the Flea Market to literally lose land. The city is entering the design process for a stormwater project here — mostly paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — that will likely wrap up in summer 2018.

In addition to possible fat bike access, the project will include a multi-use trail. Jerry Cordova, city stormwater specialist, says the plan is called "Complete Creeks," after the "Complete Streets" concept that the city is also pursuing by adding bike lanes to streets.

Chris Lieber, the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks program manager, explains that as stormwater projects are completed, the city is looking to fill gaps in its urban trail system. The great thing, he says, is that since stormwater projects need access roads anyway, putting trails in creekbeds often doesn't cost anything and "you're addressing many, many needs and values hopefully in one project."

To Gaebler, this sounds like exactly the type of win-win that could make stormwater projects, and maybe even the Springs, a little more hip.

"We can support this new type of cycling and be a community that is really on the cutting edge of doing some really great things," Gaebler says of the fat bike access, "and Colorado Springs really doesn't do that very often."

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