The lands that contribute to the open space system of unincorporated El Paso County encompass a patchwork of public and private holdings. In addition to County and municipal parks these include Forest Service, military and State lands, utility properties, institutional and school properties, as well as lands held in private ownership.
The County Parks Department currently administers approximately 3000 acres of parks, and open space and more than 50 miles of trails either through direct ownership or lease arrangements. The Department’s only dedicated funding sources are State lottery proceeds and a limited amount of subdivision and facility use fees. Operations, maintenance and administrative expenses are primarily funded through the County’s general fund. Various discretionary grant sources, such as the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) are vital programs that contribute to additional planning, acquisition, and development of the County’s regional parks and open space system.
Park land dedications or fees in lieu of land for regional parks are required as part of the subdivision process. In urban density areas additional fees/dedications are required to assist with preserving urban park lands. Currently the County Parks Department does not provide for neighborhood parks; therefore they either do not exist or are administered by special districts or schools.
ISSUE 8.1 Protect and enhance our legacy
El Paso County has a tremendous legacy of unique natural features, open space, trails and parklands. However, the relatively open character of the County is changing as urban development, 2-1/2-, 5- and 35-acre sub-divisions increase and interrupt the vast open vistas to the Front Range.
Demands for use of park and open space areas are variable and often compete with one another. The classic dilemma is the choice of either protecting pristine natural environments from users or allowing the community full access and use of park, trails and open space properties.
Goal 8.1 Protect and enhance El Paso County’s legacy of unique natural features, open space, trails and park lands.
Policy 8.1.1
Evaluate new development, both public and private, in terms of its impact on the proposed park, trails and open space system.
Policy 8.1.2
Fully consider potential impacts to the proposed open space system identified in the Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan in the planning, coordination and prioritization of public capital expenditures.
Policy 8.1.3
Prioritize acquisition and development of new parks, trails and open space in a manner which enhances the value of the overall system.
Policy 8.1.4
Promote balanced multiple use of park, trails and open space resources in a manner which does not detract from their natural quality.
Policy 8.1.5
Comprehensively identify the most significant natural features in the County and develop options for their protection.
Policy 8.1.6
Encourage preservation of all ecosystems represented in El Paso County.
Issue 8.2 Promote parks, trails and open space planning
Growth in the unincorporated County has resulted in increased use of existing facilities and demand for additional ones. In response, the Parks Department has undertaken a public planning process to determine the future direction and development for park lands, trails and open space. This has culminated in adoption of the El Paso County 1997 Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan.
While the Master Plan offers a broad contextual plan for preserving open space, it has not comprehensively considered the land use implications of open space as a means of shaping or defining developed areas.
Although the terms parks and open space may overlap, they are by no means synonymous. While this community may differ over priorities for their acquisition and use, there is a good collective sense of what parks are. However, there is not a consensus as to what is meant by open space. Considered in combination, factors including natural quality, accessibility, jurisdiction, permanence and level of use contribute to varying definitions of what should or should not qualify as open space.
Goal 8.2 Promote comprehensive coordinated planning for parks, trails and open space in the County.
Policy 8.2.1
Encourage implementation of the County’s Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan.
Policy 8.2.2
Develop, adopt and maintain a separate open space element of the County Master Plan.
Policy 8.2.3
Develop and maintain an informed community consensus as to how open space should be defined, why it is important, and how it should be used.
Policy 8.2.4
Encourage the use of a coordinated County-wide approach in all applicable parks, trails and open space planning efforts.
Policy 8.2.5
Support the continued updating and implementation of adopted plans for regional trails.
Policy 8.2.6
Rely upon planning efforts to more clearly establish regional parks and trails, community parks, and open space needs and priorities.
Policy 8.2.7
Maximize the usefulness of planning information for parks, trails and open space by integrating it into a County-wide geographic information system.
Policy 8.2.8
Actively consider the topic of open space in the development of Small Area and topical elements of the Master Plan.
ISSUE 8.3 Emphasize parks and open space in development planning.
Parks, trails, and open space planning may not traditionally have been considered in the preparation of development plans. In some instances, parks, trails, and open space sites which are set aside are of limited usefulness and adequate provisions may not have been made for their maintenance.
Goal 8.3 Fully consider parks, trails, and open space issues in the review of individual development plans.
Policy 8.3.1
Encourage development plans which appropriately incorporate parks, trails, and open space into their design.
Policy 8.3.2
Accommodate innovative approaches for the provision and maintenance of viable parks, trails, and open space resources through the development review process.
Policy 8.3.3
Address protection of significant natural features beginning with the initial stages of the development review process.
Policy 8.3.4
Clearly designate the boundaries of proposed parks and open space in land development plans.
Policy 8.3.5
Ensure that publicly dedicated open space is of sufficient overall quality that it adds value to the larger community.
Policy 8.3.6
Provide for the guaranteed preservation of designated, but not yet developed park and open space properties.
Issue 8.4 Allow for provision of community and neighborhood parks and trails
Many of the more highly-developed areas of the unincorporated County do not have community centers, neighborhood parks, local trails or recreational facilities. The County’s Parks Department provides only for the development and maintenance of regional parks, trails and open space properties. With the exception of certain special districts, administrative systems are not currently in place to comprehensively provide and maintain community parks, neighborhood parks, localized trails, or recreational facilities.
The potential alternatives for provision and management of neighborhood parks, localized trails, and recreational facilities in unincorporated areas include creation of a regional authority, assumption of this responsibility by the County Parks Department, use of new and existing special districts, intergovernmental agreements with school districts and other entities, homeowners associations and privatization. While all of these options should be explored, it is recognized that it would be difficult to employ a county-wide system to address the unique circumstances in different sub-areas of the County. Funding, liability and access concerns may be limitations for homeowners associations and private facilities.
GoaL 8.4 Provide for community and neighborhood parks, local trails, and recreational facilities in developed unincorporated areas.
Policy 8.4.1
Support planning for the incorporation of parks, trails and recreational facilities in higher density residential subdivisions.
Policy 8.4.2
Encourage existing viable special districts to assume responsibility for parks, trails and recreation functions where applicable.
Policy 8.4.3
Support the formation of new special districts to address the planning, development and maintenance of community parks, neighborhood parks, recreational facilities, local trails and community centers.
Policy 8.4.4
In the acquisition, development and design of community and neighborhood parks, recreation, trails and open space facilities, provide a balance among varying factors including demands for active and passive open space, accessibility, safety, maintenance, optimal use, special needs, conservation and economics.
Policy 8.4.5
Accommodate innovative approaches for the provision and maintenance of viable parks and open space resources through the development review process.
ISSUE 8.5 address Funding for the Provision of Parks, trails, and Open Space
A wide variety of options are available for the provision and management of parks, trails, and open space in the County. These vary from County ownership and administration to a formalized arrangement for private open space.
Goal 8.5 Encourage the use of a combination of all private and public options available for the effective provision and maintenance of parks, trails and open space.
Policy 8.5.1
Encourage the effective use of private sector approaches to parks, trails and open space acquisition and management.
Policy 8.5.2
Promote the use of strategies such as land trusts and conservation easements which allow for the continuing use of lands for agricultural and other land preservation purposes.
Policy 8.5.3
Support parks, trails, and open space partnerships with municipalities, the educational community and other public and private entities.
Policy 8.5.4
Integrate parks, trails, and open space into major infrastructure projects such as roadways, drainage improvements, reservoirs and utility corridors.
PolicY 8.5.5
Encourage private property owners to enhance the open space value of their property through the voluntary use of conservation easements and management techniques which are environmentally sensible.
Policy 8.5.6
Upon completion of a County Open Space Master Plan, encourage the county to take an active role in fulfilling the goals of that plan through open space advocacy and management.
Refer to El Paso County Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan

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