City, county weigh future of the tract

The Colorado Springs Trails, Open Space and Parks Working Committee will consider recommending that the city purchase Corral Bluffs for use as open space. The City Council would have to approve the move.

Walking along the dusty canyon floor of Corral Bluffs, past gnarled boulders and a venerable homesteader’s cabin, it’s easy to forget about the landfill next door.
Or the dirt bike park and junked-car graveyards nearby, along Colorado Highway 94. Or the 180,000 people who are expected to someday live on Banning Lewis Ranch across the road.
The possibility of dirt bikes racing through the canyons has passed, after El Paso County officials this month dropped a plan to create a motorcycle park here.
But just what will happen with Corral Bluffs is uncertain.
Officials from Colorado Springs and El Paso County governments have begun discussions about its future as a park or open space, but none would say much about the possibility.
On Monday, Colorado Springs City Council gave the city parks staff permission to add Corral Bluffs to a list of candidates for funding under the Trails, Open Space and Parks program, ending a moratorium against discussing the site while the county was considering it.
“I think it would make a good addition to our open space,” said Councilman Larry Small. “I think it should remain open space for recreational use other than motorized.”
Jackie Hilaire, president of the Corral Bluffs Alliance, which opposed the motorcycle park, submitted an application last week for the TOPS program to buy it.
“I would hope the scientific value of the site would be recognized, acknowledged and basically maximized to make El Paso County one of the models in the country for this type of preservation,” Hilaire said.
The area is privately owned. When the county proposed to buy a 525-acre parcel — to be added to and managed by the adjacent Aztec Family Raceway — for a motorcycle park this winter, it caused an outcry among open-space advocates and nearby residents.
The county dropped the plan May 1, after surveys found it would jeopardize archeological and paleontological sites and disturb golden eagle and prairie falcon nests.
The TOPS application now goes to the city’s Trails, Open Space and Parks Working Committee, a citizen board that earlier asked City Council to oppose the bike park. That angered council members, who saw the committee as interfering in a county landuse issue.
Corral Bluffs has long been identified in the TOPS master plan as potential open space. “Protection of this area would maintain the visual quality of an important landmark and distinctive landform,” states the master plan.
“It certainly deserves and needs some level of protection. The question is what public access can be environmentally sensitive to the resource,” said Lee Milner, a committee member who led opposition to the bike park.
He envisions a large park, linking with the proposed Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir. He also sees a need for more open-space recreation on the fast-growing eastern side of Colorado Springs.
Milner said he was speaking as an open-space advocate and not a committee member. But considering the committee’s earlier action, there will probably be support on the committee’s part for Corral Bluffs.
“All I can say is we have to let the process work, and folks need to be patient,” said committee chairman Bill Koerner, who wouldn’t discuss his views on the property because the issue is pending before the committee.
TOPS is funded by a onetenth of 1 percent sales tax, approved by voters in 1997. It generates about $6 million a year. The ordinance that created the program prohibits motorized use in any TOPS-funded project.
There is money in this year’s budget to buy Corral Bluffs, said TOPS director Chris Lieber. But if the working committee decided to make Corral Bluffs a priority, it would push back the purchase of 640 acres of land to be included in the Section 16 trail complex between Red Rock Canyon and Manitou Springs, the current top-priority project.
The TOPS Working Committee would make a recommendation to buy Corral Bluffs, with final approval required from City Council.
Lieber has begun discussions with the county regarding a collaborative purchase, but he declined to elaborate, because talks began Tuesday.
County officials, who haven’t yet terminated their purchase contract with Randy Case, owner of the parcel that was to host the motorcycle park, were also vague about their plans.
“I think that’s all open to discussion, and that’s what we’re going to try to resolve in the next couple of weeks,” said county parks director Tim Wolken. The city and county have collaborated on other parks, including the Section 16 area, where the county provides maintenance and the city pays for the land, he said.
Though the $750,000 the county planned to use to buy the Corral Bluffs land is available, that money may be used for an off-highway vehicle park elsewhere, Wolken said.
Case, on Monday, said he is open to a sale that would result in a non-motorized open space, to protect Corral Bluffs. “If that’s a priority for the community to have those kinds of resources retained, we would certainly try to support that,” Case said.

El Paso County officials are accepting applications for a new committee to find a site for an off-highway-vehicle park.
This month, the county dropped a plan for a motorcycle park at Corral Bluffs because of opposition.
The seven-member OHV Park Project Citizen Committee will evaluate potential sites and make a recommendation to county commissioners.
Officials are looking for a wide range of interests to be represented.
Anyone interested in serving should send an e-mail, along with some biographical information, to