Black Forest Section 16 is about to get more expensive. Here’s why.

Courtesy El Paso County
Black Forest Section 16

The price for El Paso County to keep the popular park north of Colorado Springs is set to rise by more than 4,700 percent next year. The State Land Board leases the property to El Paso County, which currently pays just $452 a year for the 91-acre open space. The current 25-year lease expires in December, and the new price is set to jump to $21,825 per year.

In the letter sent to the county Wednesday, the state said it has an established guideline mandating that public open spaces cannot be leased for less than 5 percent of their fair market value. According to the agency, the new price of the Black Forest lease is approximately 2.5% of market value – half the board’s minimum rate.

The State Land Board is a 146-year-old commission that owns over 2.8 million acres in Colorado, making it the second-largest landowner in the state. The agency is tasked with leasing land to public and private stewards in order to help generate money for public schools. El Paso County schools have received over $100 million in grants funded by the Land Board since 2008, according to the agency.

The State Land Board said it cannot negotiate any lower from its current offer for Black Forest Section 16 while still fulfilling its obligation to schools.

From here, El Paso County can either renew the lease at the increased price, buy the land outright, or do nothing, opening the door to other buyers.

In an email, the county said it’s committed to renewing the lease for 10 years and that the price increase from the Land Board is “sensible.” Though El Paso County has not started its 2023 budget process, a spokesperson said it has the necessary space in its budget to renew the lease.

The Trails and Open Space Coalition, a parks advocacy group, is conducting a survey about the future of Black Forest Section 16. It asks park users for input on what the park should look like, which it will pass on to the county commissioners, who will make the ultimate decision before the lease expires in December.