Blodgett Open Space Master Plan approved after Colorado Springs City Council denies appeal

Courtesy of City of Colorado Springs
The Blodgett Open Space Master and Management Plan aims to balance protecting and maintaining the area’s natural resources while also serving the needs of folks using the trail systems.

Colorado Springs city council voted down an appeal filed by residents who say plans for Blodgett Open Space on the northwest side of town prioritizes recreation over conservation. 

The city's parks department described the Blodgett Open Space Master and Management Plan as a way to balance protecting and maintaining the area's natural resources while also serving the needs of folks who use the trail systems. It was drafted over a 15-month period using community input including calls for getting rid of "rogue" trails, also known as social or unofficial trails, and strengthening connections to two regional trail corridors, among other things. 

David Deitemeyer with the city of Colorado Springs told city council citizen engagement on the plan included more than a dozen public meetings and six online surveys. The appeal was filed in April after the master plan was approved by both the city's Parks Advisory Board and Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Working Committee.

The plan designates more than 10 miles of trails "multi-use," allowing both hikers and bikers to use them. 2.3 miles of trail will be devoted specifically to downhill mountain biking. Less than 10 percent -1.5 miles - of the total trail infrastructure will be offered for on-foot recreation only. There are also two planned launch sites for paragliders.

Sarah Spiller was one of the appellants asking for the plan to be revised.

"The original purchase intent of the land was to help ensure the preservation of this unique wildland area, the very last northwest piece of property not developed or privately owned," Spiller told city council on Monday.

The city has owned Blodgett Open Space since 2001, acquiring additional land several times to expand to its current 384 acres. The land was purchased through the TOPS sales tax program. It neighbors the Pike-San Isabel National Forest. 

Spiller said the city provided minimal public notice throughout the master plan process. She also said the input that was received was imbalanced and influenced by special interests, including local mountain biking groups. Concerns about the impact on a resident herd of Big Horn Sheep were also raised along with fears about evacuation in the event of a wildfire. 

During public comment at Monday's meeting about the appeal, resident John Mandico said options for mountain biking have grown since he first started riding nearly 40 years ago. He said "multi-use" trails become de facto trails for bikers, simply because hikers don't feel safe.

"Today mountain bikers have an abundance of trails to choose from in and around the Pikes Peak region, so why is it necessary to take a precious piece of natural land like Blodgett Open Space and develop it into a high-end mountain biking area?" he said. "Don't we already have enough?"

Mandico also recalled evacuating the area for the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.

"I'm driving down Woodmen Road, sitting in a parking lot because that's what Woodmen Road became, and my daughters are in the car in the back and I'm looking at flames [behind us]," he told city council. "So now you're going to add a couple hundred - possibly more- parking spaces up there?"

Martin Palmaz spoke in favor of the plan. He's a previous director of the U.S Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association, headquartered in Colorado Springs. He said the two planned launch sites for the sport will help increase visibility as the only existing sites are for advanced athletes.

"To have access to sites that are beginner and intermediate are really elemental in being able to have a vibrant [paragliding and hanggliding] community here," Palmaz said. "Otherwise you have to leave the area to do that."

Cory Sutela with Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates said he, along with many other mountain bikers, works to preserve the natural beauty of the trails they ride on.

"Having been deeply involved in the planning process, Medicine Wheel believes the plan provides improved protection for the natural resources on-site, compared to the current unstructured access situation that encourages off-trail travel and construction of social trails," he said.

The Blodgett Open Space Master and Management plan also calls for improvements to facilities at existing trailheads and the addition of a new trailhead near the Pikeview Quarry. The city is currently in talks with the company that owns the quarry about acquiring the land, once reclamation is complete, to broaden recreational opportunities.

According to the city, the Blodgett Open Space Master Plan integrates two regional trail corridors proposed within the open space – the Park to Peak and Chamberlain trails. 

Council voted 6-1 against the appeal. Dave Donelson was the sole vote in favor.

"Slowing down and taking a second look at this and seeing … is there a better way? Can it be more of a win-win? I don't see harm in that. I see [a] benefit in that," Donelson said.

In her vote denying the appeal, Councillor Nancy Henjum encouraged residents on both sides of the discussion to find common ground.

"This is all about being in community, is really what this is about. It's about having something that's an incredible amenity that we have all paid our taxpayer dollars for," she said.

Council also approved an amendment to the plan limiting the size of one of the parking lots. The plan requires a public process to add more parking in the future.