Strawberry Fields? Strawberry Hill? Strawberry Hills? You know that you’re in a nasty political clash when the warring sides can’t even agree on the name of the entity they’re fighting over.
Sorry guys, but you’re all wrong. The 189.5-acre parcel that the city proposes to transfer to The Broadmoor was acquired by the city on Aug. 22, 1885, as part of Cheyenne Cañon Park. Here’s what Colorado Springs Mayor John Robinson wrote in a letter to the future, which was placed in the Century Chest in 1901:
“The parks now owned by the city are ‘Acacia’ Park, South Park in which is now being erected the County Courthouse, the Antlers Park and the Cheyenne Cañon. Dorchester Park is owned but at present not used by the city. The same is true of certain lands lying along the ‘Monument’ Creek … I wish that we owned South Cheyenne, as well as North Cheyenne Cañon. I hope that the former may at an early date be procured by the city.”
Clearly, it should be considered part of North Cheyenne Cañon Park — not a separate parcel of land.
With that settled, let’s move on to the real issues at stake in the land swap deal that has garnered both supporters and opposition from the neighborhoods closest to the city-owned open space.
The question presented by the proposed land swap isn’t whether it’s a good deal or not, but whether it conforms to the shared goals of our community.
Central Park has long been called the lungs of New York City, a place of refuge from the dirt, noise and clamor of that great metropolis. I lived a block from the park in the early ’70s and can attest to its importance. Weather permitting, I’d run around the reservoir every weekday morning with my big dog before putting on a suit and heading downtown to my Wall Street job.
Life was good, thanks in no small part to the park that generations of New Yorkers had preserved, protected, maintained and improved.
Last Sunday morning, we took our big dog for a walk in Red Rock Canyon open space. By 9 a.m. the parking lots were nearly full, but the trails seemed relaxed and uncrowded.
As we approached the old quarry wall, we were in a silent, meditative place. No city noise, no cars, no worries — just our fellow hikers and us, all recovering from the week and preparing for Monday.
It was a beautiful day and reminded us why the city embraces open space and parks.
Looking at the beauty around us, I thought of John Robinson, his predecessors and his successors. He, like Gen. William Palmer and thousands of others who have served our city, sought to expand our park system — not contract it.
Were it not for dedicated citizens such as Mary Lou Makepeace, Richard Skorman, Don Ellis, Shanti Toll, Randy Case and Lee Milner, we wouldn’t have Red Rock Canyon, Stratton open space, America the Beautiful Park and Blodgett Peak open space.
Supporters and opponents of today’s complex land swap tend to get mired in details — in appraisals, in acreage received and acreage acquired, in trail easements, in future access to Barr Trail and the Manitou Incline, in the language of the conservation easement that may or may not be placed on the exchanged land.
But the issue isn’t how much land the city’s getting or giving. It’s about preserving the open space and being the best stewards possible. It’s about keeping the values of the city’s residents at the forefront of negotiations — and this city values its open spaces.
The issue also isn’t whether the city officials are capable of wheeling and dealing with the extremely able folks who work for Broadmoor owner Phil Anschutz. Admittedly, it’s probably not their strong suit.
When Colorado Springs voters approved the Trails and Open Space tax in 1997, they did so to protect, enhance and expand the city’s park and open space system. Historic parkland isn’t a municipal Park Place — a Monopoly card to trade, build hotels on or sell. It’s our heritage and our legacy.
Supporters are right when they list the many benefits of the trade, but wrong when they insist that a trade is the only way to realize them.
Can Strawberry Fields be transformed into a visible and accessible part of the park system?
Sure — we just need money for parking, signs and restrooms.
Do we need more open space and trails? Absolutely — especially given the post-fire closure of the Waldo Canyon Trail. It’s easy to understand why city officials, confronted with apparently permanent funding shortfalls, are attracted by a no-cash deal that solves some of the concern around the Incline as well.
But let’s stop demonizing The Broadmoor. Its leaders are acting in good faith, trying to make a fair and equitable deal. Anschutz believes that the swap will benefit both parties — and he may be right.
As for me, maybe I’ll host a séance to summon the spirit of John Robinson … but then again, why bother?
He’s already on the record.