Several times last year, we heard fresh optimism about a long-hoped-for project actually becoming reality in Colorado Springs.
After all, the Emerald Necklace idea — encircling the downtown area with a connected series of hiking and bicycling trails, parks and open space — has been around for, no kidding, an entire century. It was in 1912 that Charles Mulford Robinson put forth, as part of A City Beautiful Dream, a vision for the Springs that included the "necklace" concept.
At the time, it was considered desirable enough that the necklace became part of the city flag.
Eight decades later, in 1992, a Downtown Action Plan exhumed Robinson's dream. Some progress would take place over the coming years, including work on Shooks Run as well as transforming the original Confluence Park into America the Beautiful Park. The necklace would integrate both, plus Monument Valley Park, Midland Greenway and more, into a loop of about 10,000 meters (or a little more than six miles).
But the circle has never been finished, despite its importance being reaffirmed in the Imagine Downtown plan of 2007 and within the Urban Land Institute's 2012 recommendations for creating a downtown renaissance.
Last August, the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board agreed to participate in pulling the plans and funds together to make the "Downtown Emerald Necklace Park Ring" happen. Among the many potential benefits would be creating a viable new way for residents to commute to downtown via bicycle.
It wouldn't take much more land acquisition to make it a reality. In fact, we were told, it had come down to just one more piece of property — about eight acres, just north of Fountain Creek and east of Nevada Avenue — that would connect the final 3,000 feet or so of trails to complete the initial circle, with more links and tributaries in years to come.
Alas, the money and the action hasn't come together. Now the final needed parcel of land has been grabbed up out of foreclosure by Edrallinn LLC.
This setback doesn't mean the necklace is dead, says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. She says the new owner will be approached about perhaps granting an easement just for the trail. But there are no guarantees.
"It's a beautiful property with a lot of trees," TOSC advocacy director Bill Koerner says. "It would be a wonderful place to have a Frisbee golf course, because we need a place for that. The whole property is completely on the flood plain, and it used to be a trailer park, so they couldn't do much to it. I'll be disappointed if we lose it."
This also emphasizes the point that moving slowly no longer is a suitable option, especially in an improving economy with developers looking for available land. If we're going to have a coordinated effort focused on parks, trails and waterways — especially in the downtown area — we have to stop talking about plans and start talking about action.
So what's the big deal about the Emerald Necklace, you ask? Some, especially those residents who don't use parks and trails, might see it as meaningless,
But the ring, if completed, would add to the city's quality of life. Perhaps more importantly, it could create momentum for many other ambitious plans related to downtown by showing that we can get something done — even if it takes 101 years. Also, of course, the cost factor of buying one more piece of land and building trails would be minuscule compared to costs associated with building museums or other projects.
The necklace might move forward without the circle being totally interlocked; it still can be useful for many areas. But the symbolism for now would be lacking. And that's too bad, because the necklace never seemed to have any vocal enemies. Its main obstacle, as always, has been the difficulty of getting everyone on the same page.
Of course, it would've been nice to know about that last parcel of property, that it was slipping away. Who knows, perhaps something could have been done.
Now all we can do is hope.