The decimation of Colorado Springs' Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services' budget made headlines worldwide, but few have taken notice as the department has slowly shed a resource that's perhaps even more valuable: its knowledgeable personnel.
The department's general fund appropriation plunged from $19.9 million in 2008 to $11.4 million in 2011. At the same time, many parks offices emptied out, and are still deserted.
In 2010, both longtime department director Paul Butcher and Trails, Open Space and Parks leader Chris Lieber retired. Staff members Kurt Schroeder and Kim King took over Butcher's duties. Eight-year employee Sarah Bryarly, a landscape architect, replaced Lieber. But now, she too is leaving, on Dec. 9, to be a stay-at-home mom to her 6-month-old son.
"I just feel like my true calling is to be a mom, and I want to be there when he reaches all his milestones," Bryarly says. "I love the people I work with and work for, and it was a very difficult decision between something I love and something I love even more."
There's no word yet as to whether Bryarly will be replaced, or if her position will be eliminated, as city government seeks to shrink through attrition. Bryarly's work is already being reassigned among her colleagues.
But for many, it's hard to imagine not replacing Bryarly, who manages 75 to 100 parks projects (funded through the TOPS dedicated sales tax) at any one time, including high-profile ones like the Manitou Incline, the South Slope of Pikes Peak, and the new master plan for Red Rock Canyon, Section 16 and White Acres Open Spaces (known as the Red, White and 16 process).
"She's been working so hard, and it's part of her nature," says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition advocacy group. "But [it's] also because that department has been really decimated, and everyone's doing the job of two people."
When Bryarly started in her position, she was one of four landscape architects assigned to TOPS, along with two construction managers and an administrative technician. Currently, it's just Bryarly, a part-time construction manager, and a less-than-half-time administrative assistant. Before her baby arrived, Bryarly says she worked 70 to 80 hours a week. She's cut down since then. And, she says, "It's not fair to the projects."
City Council President Scott Hente says he hopes Bryarly's position will be filled. He notes that her departure leaves a hole at a time when one of his favorite projects — the legalization of the popular Incline trail — is at a critical point.
"I'm not crazy about [her leaving], that's for sure," Hente says. "I thought the world of her in that job."
Projects in flux
Her departure date nearing, Bryarly took time to describe the state of her three biggest projects.
Manitou Incline: Colorado Springs Utilities and the City of Colorado Springs have given a go on this project, which would make hiking the Incline legal. The remaining pieces are 85 to 95 percent complete, including a contract with the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, an intergovernmental agreement with Manitou Springs, and permission from the U.S. Forest Service.
While Bryarly has been the main person navigating the contractual jungle, she's confident the project can get done without her.
"Where we are," she says, "it's in a very good spot to keep moving forward."
The Incline could be a legal trail in as soon as three to four months, though it still needs extensive restoration to make it safe and sustainable. The Incline Friends group held its first project last month, working on a trail from the Barr Trail parking lot to the base of the Incline. The group plans a fundraiser Dec. 7 for further improvements.
The city has set aside money for an engineer to assess the most dangerous sections of the trail next year and give a cost estimate for repairs.
Red, White and 16: The process would combine three open spaces into one, under a single master plan. The properties have been zoned, but more work needs to be completed, including determinations of forest health, management and fundraising.
Currently, Bryarly has put the public process on hold due to conflicts between the city and friends groups, but that shouldn't mean a long delay.
She plans soon to issue a request for proposals seeking a mediator to lead a "relationship-building process" between the two sides.
"I think the biggest [problems] are just the rules and responsibilities — what is the city responsible for and what are the friends groups responsible for," she says.
"You really want the friends groups to take on ownership, but we still need to work within the fact that the city still owns [the properties]."
The relationship process will be open to all parks enthusiasts.
Bryarly hopes the Red, White and 16 process will restart in mid-2012, with someone else leading it.
The South Slope: This huge Pikes Peak project is still in its early stages. Two grants will provide $400,000 toward the development of the McReynolds Day Use Area (with fishing access) and about half of the 10-mile Mason-Boehmer backcountry trail, which will be the first areas to open to the public. There has been no opening date set.