The forested west-side area known as Jones Park could soon be county parkland.
Currently owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, which doesn't have a use for it, the 1,191-acre parcel is popular with hikers and cyclists, and was a favorite of off-road motorcyclists before that use was banned in late 2012. The move came after Jones was found to be the last known habitat of the threatened greenback cutthroat trout, which prompted legal action by environmental groups that feared heavy traffic on trails would threaten the stream and imperil the fish. The discovery also led the U.S. Forest Service to start assessing the area and ordering changes to ensure the habitat is protected. (The Forest Service owns the land surrounding the property.)
All of that will cost money, which Utilities hopes to avoid spending. Utilities staff originally asked City Council to give the land to the Forest Service, but Council rejected that plan and considered selling the property for a while, even having it appraised. (The appraisal found the property is worth between $1.191 million and $2.382 million, depending on the restrictions placed on its use.)
"Our parks advocates in town are very vocal, and I think that our Council heard loud and clear from the parks advocates that a sale never should have been on the table," Councilor Jan Martin says.
Council will vote on a resolution to give Jones to El Paso County as soon as Dec. 9, with certain restrictions, including that the county impose a conservation easement on the land to prevent any future development; that it pay for and implement any improvements stipulated by the Forest Service's environmental review and other federal agencies; and that it give the city first right of refusal should the property ever be sold. County commissioners have said they are committed to keeping the property open to the public, and they have committed $200,000 in improvements to Jones from money they recently retained for parks from a voter-approved measure.