Plan requires extra collaboration for conservation, recreation round Pikes Peak area | Way of life

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A new document aims to position itself as “the boldest vision and plan yet for land conservation and outdoor recreation in the Pikes Peak region.”

This is the self-description of Elevate the Peak, a Palmer Land Conservancy product, recently released after more than a year of surveys and interviews with nonprofit executives, elected officials, land administrators and concerned residents of El Paso, Teller and Fremont counties.

With 45 years of experience in the conservation business and an annual budget of over $2.5 million, Rebecca Jewett, President and CEO of Palmer Land Conservancy, viewed her agency as the initiative’s facilitator and accountant. The organization secured grant money for a contractor to gather feedback and translate it into a set of key findings, challenges and proposed strategies.

“There has been a need for a very long time to take more of a landscape view, a comprehensive type of view, for this area,” Jewett said.

The idea, she said, is to set the stage for more collaboration that combines creative thinking and resources across jurisdictions. The Elevate the Peak report suggests that this approach may help achieve larger conservation and recreation goals. Connected landscapes could be made more resilient to fire, for example, and trail projects could help benefit the wider tourism economy and quality of life in the region.

Too often these concepts play out in “silos,” Jewett said.

“There are so many great projects in this region,” she said, “and what I’ve seen in the 15 years that I’ve been working in the conservation field here is that we haven’t always been successful because those projects tend to be take place once and then compete against each other.”

The report specifically targets funding mechanisms that are either absent or too narrow across the region. While Douglas, Jefferson, Boulder and Larimer counties have programs that channel sales tax portions to conservation and recreation, this part of the Front Range lacks such a robust funder, the report found.

The local counterpart is the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program within the city limits of Colorado Springs. Despite TOPS, the city “reports hundreds of millions of dollars in capital improvement arrears,” according to the report, which points to the $270 million identified in the Jacobs study.

The report adds, “Organizations and initiatives that rely on public or philanthropic funding tend to operate with a zero-sum mindset, which can encourage competition for limited resources versus working together for a shared outcome.”

Beyond county-level programs, the report recommends a regional conservation fund and/or a regional park district modeled on regional transportation agencies.

These could be useful, according to the report, to fill a justice gap that found a lack of outdoor access and quality park infrastructure for low-income communities and people of color. Feedback reinforced that need, Jewett said.

“While this was a community-informed plan,” she said, “much of what this is is mandate and marching orders for those of us doing this work and for elected officials and funders.”