Columns » Hiking Bob

Volunteer advisers, employees, and elected officials work together to administer parks

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BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
The controversial blue frame in the Garden of the Gods had a lot of people wondering who was responsible for i t. Social media was full of ire and finger-pointing and just anger in general, as well as a lot of misinformation. The wrong person was named as a department director and the e-mail address of someone who had nothing to do with the issue was distributed widely as the avenue for complaints. Even the news media got it wrong, by putting the responsibility on the wrong level of government. 

It became apparent that many don't understand how the different entities involved in our parks work together, and, most notably, the role that parks advisory boards play.

Our city and county parks are overseen by volunteer advisory boards,  city or county employees and elected officials, that play a role in administering to the needs of the parks and their users.

Both Colorado Springs and El Paso County have parks advisory boards that represent the interests of the community. Board members are tasked with advising elected officials on park matters that come before them.  (disclosure: I serve as the chairperson of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board). Park master plans, including amendments or changes, and approval of parks and trails development plans in new neighborhoods are some of the items that elected officials decide on, after taking into consideration the input and recommendation of the advisory boards. At their monthly meetings, boards are presented with an agenda of items from parks department staff for consideration, with each item accompanied by a briefing by staff, and then comments from other involved parties and citizens who wish to weigh in. Parks department staff offers their recommendations to the boards, which then decide to accept, reject of modify the recommendation before sending it to elected officials for final disposition. Also, both the city and county PAB's set aside time at the beginning of their meetings for citizens to address the board on topics not on the agenda.

According to Tim Wolken, head of El Paso County Parks, the advisory board does not write policy, and it doesn't get involved in the day-to-day operations of the parks department, but exists to provide feedback to the department staff and endorse projects from the staff to the Board of County Commissioners. Wolken says the board provides a skill-set that the parks staff may not have while listening to the community and reinforcing that the parks belong to the citizens.

BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
Karen Palus, Wolken's counterpart at Colorado Springs Parks Department, agrees. The city's parks advisory board acts as the "eyes and ears" for city residents, Palus says, especially when it comes to developing new parks — it's up to the board to imagine what residents of the area would want in a park if they were moving to the new development.

"Board members are volunteers that give tremendous amounts of time and expertise, who keep accountability to the parks Master Plan," Palus says.

Elected officials rely heavily on the opinions of local advisory boards. County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, the liaison between the BoCC and the county parks advisory board, says that the county's 40 citizen advisory boards are another pathway for citizens to communicate with county government. Citizen boards help commissioners understand what the citizens want, including ideas that help with the decision making. VanderWerf says citizen boards help keep government small and that a citizen volunteer advisory board and small staff is better than a large staff and no citizen involvement.

"Boards keep commissioners better informed and the taxpayers get a better value, better bang for your buck," VanderWerf says. 
BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone

Colorado Springs City Council member Jill Gaebler, herself a former city advisory board member, says the city vets potential parks advisory board members carefully to screen out people looking to push individual agendas. Councilors consider why someone wants to join the advisory board, and if they have the time to commit to the responsibility.

"It's impressive how engaged they are," Gaebler says of advisory board members, "and council generally follows the advisory boards recommendations".

Our parks are governed by a collaboration of the volunteer parks advisory boards, government employees and elected officials, and parks advocacy groups. That's what gives citizens a voice.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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