Public parks add beauty and value to all areas they’re in. And we’re proud to have many amazing parks and open spaces here in Colorado Springs. We live with America’s Mountain (Pikes Peak), and the magnificent Garden of the Gods. Even within our city’s borders, we have some 200 parks, covering more than 14,000 acres of land, and more than 100 miles of winding urban trails.
But if we cannot maintain our parks and open spaces, then we do more than degrade the land, we devalue ourselves. And despite the many apparently positive statements made in Mayor Bach’s new book, Building a Better Tomorrow, he has (and we have) neglected our parks system.
Steve Bach became our city’s first strong mayor on June 7, 2011.
After taking the oath of office he gave a brief inaugural speech, with a large focus on our parks, saying “Our parks will be what they should be. I’m happy to tell you today that we are going to find the money, right away, to bring back 275 acres… [applause] We’re going to bring back 275 acres of neighborhood parks. We’re going to re-seed and water. We’re going to use outside contractors. We’re going to get it done. Yes, we’re going to have to find the money, and we will.” (The video of this speech is on YouTube. Watch from 5:52 to 6:25.)
After getting into office, Mayor Bach created Solutions Teams, “led by experienced community leaders, working with City staff to reinvent how quality services can be delivered to citizens within current budgets and resources.” The Parks Solutions Team, headed by Richard Skorman, made six recommendations and filed their final report—but the report can no longer be downloaded from the Mayor’s website. According to Bach’s new book, only “some of the team’s recommendations” have been implemented (pg. 42).
One of those recommendations was to re-purpose parks lands to decrease the water footprint. A good goal, certainly, in this dry environment. But how was it achieved? We know how, because until just recently our city’s Parks website told us “budget reductions have impacted the maintenance levels of our park system. Besides irrigation, mowing and trash service schedules being affected, most neighborhood restroom facilities are closed. Please plan accordingly when visiting a neighborhood park. … We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.” We saved water by closing the bathrooms, letting the trash pile up and the grass die.
Information of this kind cannot be found on the city’s new Parks website. But certainly nothing has changed practically, even though the website got an upgrade, for even on the new website is the Parks System Master Plan, which notes “Colorado Springs PR&CS has a relatively small operations and maintenance (O+M) budget compared with other city parks and recreation departments. Several benchmark citywide annual O+M budgets are considerably higher with the average expenditure over twice that of Colorado Springs. O+M expenditure per resident is also low in Colorado Springs with only $38 spent per resident annually on average. Most benchmarked cities spend far more with Portland and Fort Collins spending three to six times more per resident. This benchmarking data illustrates that PR&CS is accomplishing quite a bit with a very limited annual budget” (pg. 51). We spend far less money on our parks than other cities our size spend. We are far behind.
Also reported in the Plan, “Staffing levels are also rather low within PR&CS, with fewer full-time, non-seasonal employees (FTEs) than most other benchmark cities. Although quite a few hourly O+M staff are employed on a part-time or seasonal basis, a larger workforce is needed to maintain the significant parkland acreage and provide recreational and programming services to the growing population” (pg. 51). Our parks services are woefully understaffed; and while they certainly do a good job within the limitations imposed upon them, they should not be burdened with such limitations.
I tried to find out if Mayor Bach has increased funding for Parks, by checking out the 2015 City Budget on his website, but all the links are dead.
Whoever our next mayor is must do better than this. We need more than promise, we need performance. We need more than half-truths and whole omissions; we need real answers to these real problems. We need beautiful parks, live grass, and open bathrooms.