Our City’s founder General William Palmer would be proud: We kick off the Colorado Springs podcast with a look at our parks department! Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Karen Palus and TOPS (Trails, Open Space and Parks) Manager Scott Abbott share information about a potential November ballot item that would bring more City rangers to our trails and open spaces, as well as some improvements to popular neighborhood parks. Of course, we get to know our guests as we take a look Behind the Springs, and we find out about sweat equity!
Do you have a favorite park in Colorado Springs? What's the best hiking trail? We have nearly 200 parks department employees working to make sure your favorite places and spaces are ready and waiting for you
today. We hear from two of those employees to learn more about how our parks department is managing and planning for our city's growth.
With 200 parks, 278 miles of hiking trails and 17,000 acres of open space. It's no small task but it's an important one.
Colorado Springs, nearly 500,000 people, Olympic city, USA started other gods, pikes peak, the growing city. Our local government has a lot of employees. What exactly do they do? How does it impact my life? This is where you find out behind the springs and inside. Look at your local government.
All right, behind the springs. We're here for the first episode. This is the first official episode you may have listened to episode 0.5 just to see what Jen and I are actually doing here, but today we're doing a full interview series. We're getting it all kicked off. We're talking all things parks, which is a, I don't know, Jen. Do people like parks in Colorado Springs?
I think for sure they do. I think it's why they live here.
Yeah, I, I would say so too. You know, the main thing that I heard, I moved here three years ago and everyone just kept saying, gosh, you gotta go to this Garden of the Gods and you've got to go to all these other open spaces and everything. And while they've kind of made me stick around here a little bit. Huh. So why don't you introduce our, uh, our, our interviewees today. It
ropes you in. Yes. Welcome everyone. And thanks for listening on t we're really excited today. We're lucky to have Karen Palus, our parks director here and she's been with the city of Colorado Springs for seven years. And we also have Scott Abbott who, um, for 10 years has been our regional parks trails and open space manager, but has been with the Parks Department for 20 years. So, uh, you've been really roped in, Scott, right.
And absolutely. So fortunate to work for such a city that has so many amazing resources. Absolutely.
Yes. And Karen, thanks for being here. I know that you oversee a large department. We said 200 employees and about 200, I should say seasonal employees also.
Yeah, it's a great organization. Great Group of people doing wonderful work out there.
Okay. So we're going to talk about a lot of topics, as many as we can fit in in a small amount of time. But we want to start with talking a little bit about, um, the money behind our parks and open spaces and hiking trails because of course the beauty doesn't come without a price. So can you talk to us a little bit about budget and what's happening this year specifically that people need to know about?
Well, in terms of this year, um, our overall budget, we, you know, we worked through the regular city budgets, general funds. We have a variety of sources, um, that come into the parks department allow us to do the work that we do. We have a conservation trust fund, which is, allows us to do a lot of the park maintenance you see out there, which comes from lottery funds. A lot of folks don't understand exactly where their lottery funds go, but they do go back to your communities throughout the state of Colorado. So we're very fortunate to have that fund. We also have our trails and open space tax program. But one of the cool things that's happening this year, we're working with city council and with the mayor's office, uh, to potentially put forward a TABOR, uh, opportunity for citizens. What that does is allow our citizens to vote and say, yes, we can spend an excess funding that we have within the city on these particular projects. And so we were asked to put together a list of projects that really tied into the city's hundred and 50th celebration or sesquicentennial. If you can say that three times fast,
which is not quite yet. No, not yet.
Speaker 4 karen: (03:37)
two years away, this July 31st be two years away. And so, um, we really put together a package that aligns with where our founders general Palmer started and the real gifts that he gave our community. So you'll see a list of, um, parks that really identify with downtown and with Palmer, but then also other parks throughout the community and make sure we've got something in everybody's neighborhood
so people could see that on their ballot.
Absolutely. If that council is supportive over the next stem month, um, you could potentially see that. And then November, 2019 ballot and you were saying excess revenue, what, what does that mean? Well, that's a really great question for the finance folks, but there is, but it basically means we have extra money in our, yeah, there are a, a schedule of things that are, we're allowed to, um, can count towards tabor. And then if we exceed our TABOR cap, those funds then have to be, uh, voted on if we were to spend them based on our electors and to you people, it's definitely up to the voters, which is great. It's a great opportunity to kind of see those projects. They know what those funds will go to, um, in terms of how they're going to be spent. And, uh, and it's, it's fun when it's parks because folks can see that they're tangible results and it's a great way to get out and enjoy the community.
Well, and in the past when there have been, uh, parks ballot items on there, is, is this community usually favorable to, uh, to helping you guys out a little bit?
We've been very fortunate to over the many years that, um, we've had different initiatives go forward on, on the ballot and parks has been very supportive. We were fortunate five years ago to be part of a ballot initiative for a few million dollars at that time. Uh, that went strictly to our older trails. Um, and what that allowed us to do is take the old asphalt trails and start to, uh, redo those into the concrete that lasts a whole lot longer in this climate.
Well, and I was there when you were presenting to council and the mayor at the retreat a couple months ago. Um, there was a couple stats that really stood out to me of I don't think a lot of people realize when they go and they enjoy our parks or open spaces where a lot of the budget goes towards. And I think the one that shocked me the most was water over the past. What is it, decade or so that, uh, that that's jumped up. But can you talk about some of those maybe kind of hidden costs that people don't realize when they go, well, Geez, the parks budgets this or they should be able to take care of all of these parks. What are some of those hidden numbers that, uh, that, that have jumped up for recent years?
Yeah, one of the things that's very challenging, we have a large amount of acreage out there and not all of it has to be irrigated, but the areas that do have to be irrigated, um, do require a significant investment. And that investment comes through and water, it comes through in maintenance responsibilities and such. And so when you look at the operation budget as or relates to the park side of the house, about 50% of that budget is spent on utilities before we ever mow a blade of grass, pick up after a playground, replace items and you know, renovate areas. A majority of that's going to utilities. And we've been fortunate to have great support from council and from mayor and from the utilities division over the last several years in helping us move that needle forward. And so this is one of the first years, um, we've been able to really water, um, at the level that we should be watering. And that's one of the interesting things about, um, what we do is we have certain requirements and standards for the type of turf we have out there. So one of our goals has been to reduce our water footprint over the last decade. We've been continuing to reduce the amount of, um, blue grass and put in more native. And so that takes, you know, that takes money to invest in that as well. Um, and so we make that, we go through that process and we've been able to do a little over a hundred acres already. And so our staff's continuing to do that. The other thing that we've been able to do things to support with CSU and my great team in the parks side of the house is the fact that they've been working on technology. So we've got technology out there in those parks and investing in that allows us to, one, when a head gets kicked off at a activity or what have you, when that irrigation kicks on, it shuts it down so it doesn't run all night long. And it also notifies the staff. So the first thing in the morning, they know of I need to go to zone three. They know exactly where to go to make those corrections. And so we're fortunate to have been able to continue on in that effort. We've made significant investments in our facilities to bring them up, um, in good condition in terms of the irrigation. And we're continuing on doing about usually about about five or six parks a year. We've been able to reach a retrofit the irrigation and, and make some changes there that helps us make sure that we apply the right amount of water, that what we are applying goes in the most efficient manner and really helps our budget overall.
I know one of your employees was just doing an interview with the media and saying that you're saving, I don't know, I think it's like $600,000 right now just because we had such a rainy June and you had that great technology, they'll let them know it's raining. Don't, you know, put your folders on just like we would do at home. Say somebody rainy this week, I'm going to save a few bucks and um, it's much more than a few bucks, so that's awesome.
Yeah, absolutely. We, I think, uh, the last time Kurt Schroeder, who's our, um, parks operations, uh, manager did the calculations on it. We spend about somewhere around $40,000 a day in water in terms of all of our parts. You have over 200 facilities out there. Not like some, not all of them are irrigated, but the predominant, um, ones, you know, do require a lot of care. Also when it comes to our athletic fields, you know, those have to be kept at a certain level of care so that those playing surfaces are safe. And so the water, um, has to be the right, right amount, um, for those facilities on a regular basis. But they do, the team really spends a lot of time monitoring and managing our water usage. We're fortunate we had the great snow and the really wet winter and had a pretty wet spring and a good part of the summer so far. Um, and that has allowed us to save quite a bit. So we'll see how the rest of the year goes and hopefully continue to have, uh, some help from omother nature in terms of making sure we're able to irrigate and keep our park screen and, uh, say for our community.
That's true. And I know, you know, watering, we're talking about maintenance. And then another key point that I wanted to talk with you about, Scott, is, um, that we need the public's help in maintaining and taking care of our trails and open spaces. It's kind of like we can't do it without you type thing. Um, so maybe we want to take a quick break Ted, and then come back and talk with Scott about that.
Yeah, we'll talk a little bit of a of TOPS at the time and I'm, I might have to hit the oh yeah, the acronym alert. That's an acronym alert. So before we go to the break, tell us what TOPS means. Cause that's the acronym.
The TOPS acronym stands for trails, open space and parks. Okay.
Cause too many times we use acronyms in, in city lingo. And a lot of times people don't know what that means. What are you talking about? And then also after the break, we're going to, we're going to hit on some of the, uh, the local parks that could be seeing some improvements here in the next few years and some exciting plans coming down the way. So we'll be right back.
You're loving this podcast, right? Of course you are. And what are you waiting for? Follow us on social media at city of Cos and check out our website, Colorado springs.gov,
That was friend of the show, Vanessa Zink, who also works over here in the communications department, helping us out with a quick advertisement to make sure to follow us on our social media platforms. Now also, uh, we have Scott Abbott here who we heard from your just before the break a little bit. Um, but I want to start off with some icebreakers. So first question, it's a hard hitting one. What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
Oh, that's fantastic question. And thank you for the icebreaker. No, I really enjoy talking about this a lot. You get this question sometimes in this line of work. How did you get to where you are right now? Um, literally I was that a kid who was always outside, right? I know everyone listening. There was a time before social media and fortnight and spending a lot of time in front of the television, right? Uh, I was always outside. I was on bikes, I was in the woods. Um, as you progress through your education in high school and college, I was consistently drawn outside, so I had to find a way to encompass that in my career. Um, and as I got further through education, when am I, one of the things that kind of spoke to me was I enjoyed watching other people have fun. So there was a joy in recreation that I was witnessing. So again, the question was how can I get into doing that? So, um, a wonderful career in natural resource recreation management, uh, having that ability to watch and help provide other people having fun. That's how I got really philosophically to where I am today.
So you're one of the rare people that actually gets paid for what you love to do. Absolutely. That's 100% awesome. So, yeah, and that's what we, uh, that's what we give here at the city. You know, we can make people get paid for what they love to do.
It's true. We have a lot of people doing what they love. I mean you all have a lot of employees doing what they love when you say yeah, I mean, and that's gratifying. What did you want to be when you were 10? Karen?
What did I want to be when I was 10? A professional athlete. Oh, that's good. Didn't we all? Yes. I was going to be the next, uh, Nadia Comaneci so, and it was the gymnasts back in those days. But uh, and I just followed that path of athletics and education. And uh, when you graduate with a degree in education in the summer, where do you go? You go to parks and rec? I can, so I just fell in love with the people and the programs and the facilities and um, just made a life and a career and, and something I love to do and enjoy being a part of one.
The other thing I think we need to tally is, is Alma maters here. So where'd you go to school at?
University of South Florida and University of Central Florida. I pull a bleed. Orange and blue. I was a gator.
Oh, okay. All right. Well, the A, what is it, the knights and what's old and the balls. Yeah, they're both, uh, they're hurting down there right now. I'm sure they're listening to the podcast. Southern Florida. I'll share with them. Scott were, where was your school of choice?
I graduated University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Okay. So we were literally five minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. Yeah. Not too bad. Yeah, it was bad. It was hard to get to eight o'clock chemistry class. But I got through it.
It was always hard for everybody. And also I'm sure that helped spur your love for being outdoors. Absolutely. To drill down a little bit farther, we were talking about TOPS rangers. I was saying, I saw an awesome story, uh, last week about some of your guys as rangers out there. And um, you know, I like to tell Jan a lot of times that my favorite thing is I live near you valley park and I love going there and I'm walking with my two dogs and then someone's got their dog that's not leashed up and it's running at my dogs. And I just go, gosh, this is a joy. But I know Scott doesn't usually hear about this. You guys, you guys are doing something about this, right?
Yeah. I want to hear the answer to this question. How many times do you hear from that other party? She's friendly! Every single time. Absolutely.
Or sometimes they're mean and they just don't say anything to me and, and, and keep going. Now I just grind my teeth and I keep moving along the trail. But that's okay because our trails are so amazing here that I still have a good time. Even if, uh, somebody else in the community rubs me the wrong way.
Not everyone's going to follow the rules all the time. But what are we doing to make sure they do? Most of the time.
that is one of the areas that we step in, right? So a part of my division is we oversee the TOPS stewardship program and within that program we've been able to hire seven full time park rangers that are really increasing presence, city presence, Park Ranger presence on these TOPS funded properties. And these are properties, much like Ute Valley Park, Red Rock Canyon open space, Blodgett peak, even out at bluestem prairie open space, you're going to see a lot more park rangers attending to those style a, those types of issues when they're out there. Um, but we can't be everywhere at all times. So clearly it all trail heads. We have a list of rules and regulations, uh, things that people need to follow when they're visiting these, uh, park facilities. That isn't always the case, right? And there isn't a park ranger around all the time to intervene in those types of interactions. So we really attempt to educate, uh, the people who are out there walking the dog, going for a mountain bike ride after work, enjoying their morning hike that when you run into each other, um, please attempt to understand you're not the only one out enjoying the time. Right? Um, it's a term we're trying to create this recreational empathy. You know, I care about what you're doing, Jen, how are you enjoying the open space this morning? Great to see a nice weather. It takes three to five seconds to say hello and go on about your way, but don't intrude in that person's activity. So keep your dogs on leash, right? Try to keep your speeds on your mountain bike to a minimum and be careful when you're out there. You're not the only one there. So it's very important that people, um, take that experience, whatever it was, the morning hike or the bike ride and they finish it feeling good about themselves. They've had a great time to exercise, they've been out in nature and they ran into some really nice people along the way. But it is those interactions that can kind of ruin your experience, but that goes against what we're trying to provide, right? Uh, a constant, um, consistent, good experience while you're out in these beautiful resources
can want to mention that it's not going away anytime soon in terms of, and I mean, everything we're talking about today is tied to the growth of our city, our city's growing. Um, and, and we want to do that in a responsible way, but I mean, all of it's tied that we need more money to maintain our parks. We're growing. We also need more compliance. We need people to be friendlier even as it becomes a bit more crowded.
It's the bad apples and that's it. You know, it's 99% of people, I feel like out there that are, are fantastic. And people love parks here. We, we started off the segment with, and there's a couple out there, but the other thing that I love that you said talking about the Rangers is education. And I, like I said, I think 99.9% of people aren't messing around. They're trying to have a great time and, and hoping that other people that they run into are having a good time. Uh, the other part of that, uh, t v piece that I saw was the educational part. So talk a little bit about two parter, what it takes to be a ranger for the city. And then you're not just pushing people to go out there and, and, and ticket people. You're pushing them to go out there and, and interact and make their day even more better because they're in a beautiful place.
Yeah. Um, and all of our rangers come from this kind of, um, Combo environmental education, but also every one of our rangers is deeply involved in their own personal recreation themselves. We've had mountain climbers, back country skiers, uh, people who are really, um, well versed in all kinds of outdoor recreation. We are the mountain bikers, we are the dog walkers.
Um, and so kind and compassionate might I say from meeting some of them? Absolutely. Their personalities are awesome. Right?
So that goes into the philosophy of we are just like you. Yeah. We love being out here. We understand what these properties do for us. Right? It's, it's a, it's a deep connection. Um, so that type of person is a perfect fit for a, a park ranger. You have to understand where that recreation base is coming from. Right. Everybody's trying to get something different about their out there, uh, during their day.
It's like, what do you know? Well, I do know because I'm out here just like you.
And that's the other nice thing is it sounds like, you know, the people that you're hiring for these ranger positions, they aren't just a, Oh, well yeah, I liked being out down, outdoors. I've gone on a few hikes. Like you said, they have an actual background in, uh, environmental, uh, practices.
oh, absolutely. Whether it comes from education, whether it comes from years and years, I'm moving around a, a recreational kind of employment situation. So we have people that have come from the National Park Service, uh, state parks in California, state parks in Arkansas. They're from around the country. Um, they've really cut their teeth on caring for the resource. Right? And we, we've taken a little bit of philosophy from the National Park Service, right? The role of our park ranger is to protect the park from the people we are there to help protect the people from the park. And sometimes we're there to protect the people from the people, right? So it's all encompassing these resources that we have, especially in Colorado Springs, they are so valuable and quite unique. Um, from Garden of the Gods to Red Rock Canyon to. We have a 14,000 foot mountain sitting right in front of us. Um, we have what's called the incline a mile of stairs going straight up. That gains, 2000 of elevation gain. All of these places are so unique. A lot of cities around the country don't have these places. So we need to up our level of understanding of what we have and up our ability socially within this community to garner that philosophy to help take care of it. We need buy in, right? So we need people to understand there's rules and regulations for a reason, but also it feels so good to reach out to that other person saying, Hey, what a beautiful day. Can you believe this trail? It's amazing what we have here. Great. See Ya. You know, I have a great time. Enjoy it. Help us take care of it. And the park rangers are a deeply rooted in that philosophy. So Park Rangers are not the fun killers. We're to here to help protect your afternoon, your morning and the resources so you can continue to enjoy it.
And I know that you, um, focus mostly on regional parks, correct. But we have a lot of those neighborhood parks that people you know, are really using on a daily basis. I'm taking their kids down there playing soccer games or whatever they're doing. Sure. Um, and the same kind of rules apply there. I mean the same um, philosophy, correct? Correct. Yeah, absolutely. And those little parks that are well loved and need a lot of improvements. I know we talked before the show about Bancroft Park is an example of one that's undergoing some improvements right now.
Yeah, we're getting ready, I'm believe contractors onsite. So getting ready to fulfill the master plan that we worked with the community on about a year ago. And so we're excited to see that. It, it's um, one of those facilities has kinda transformed over years in terms of the uses and the types of uses and the, um, folks that are coming to the site.
And so a lot of dialogue around events and event activities. But also it still functions as very much a neighborhood park, so anywhere heard from a lot of the moms and the grandmothers during the planning process that we want some play elements, we want some play features that we don't have that currently I'm in Bancroft and so I think the fulfillment of this master plan is going to be really exciting and be a wonderful boost to the old Colorado city portion of our city.
So it's always looking at those parks and saying, how can we improve it and how can we do that budget wise and resource wise because whatever we put in we got to maintain. Right? Absolutely. Yeah. The challenge.
Yeah, it really is. And we're fortunate because we've had so many partners and so many folks have come to the table. Another great example is a master plan that just was approved and we'll begin. I'm working towards construction is panorama. It's in the southeast portion of our city. We've gone through about a year and a half worth of planning process with the community, with the rise coalition. It's an organization that is really, um, has brought the community to the activities and they are investing in, they're engaged in, they're supportive and they're just doing amazing work down there. And, uh, we couldn't have done a panorama without that kind of support. And we're working with our partners trust for public lands and many private donors have been a part of that project as well. And so we look to facilitate where we can work with others to help us accomplish our goals. Um, we work to elevate the funds that we do have to um, me, it may be $1 for tops, but we've taken and made that $1 in tops two and $3 by other means. And so I think the team has really done a phenomenal job and taking those limited dollars we have and trying to stretch them. And we've had so much great support from, um, different, uh, community members from individuals that are philanthropists here and abroad and, uh, and so many businesses that continue to support our efforts. And then really the, uh, probably the biggest group of folks out there is our labor love is all our volunteers and they do amazing work with a Scott's team with trail building and such or whether they're helping with therapeutic recreation program, doing the, uh, uh, water skiing program at, at prospect.I mean we just have a myriad of folks that really help us get things done.
And I know you have, um, you have a lot of regulars but you'll always accept new volunteers for absolutely anytime. Right. Do volunteer for people website probably, right.
There's multiple different branches to figure out how the volunteer depends on your interest, right? It depends on your interest. Where do you want to volunteer? Do you want to put in time with the therapeutic rec services folks because maybe you have a background or a love for that. Um, do you live near a certain park that has a highly involved group of people that have started a friends group near it? Um, there's a couple of different places that you can go. Um, number one, you could probably just Google search volunteerism in Colorado Springs and it would probably direct you to multiple different pages. Um, but we have, um, the trails and open space coalition here in Colorado Springs. They really do a good job at keeping a volunteer calendar. So they're reaching out to all the friends groups and activities and they are putting it up on a calendar. So if you have a free weekend in the summer or in the fall, you look at that calendar and you kind of see what's available for you. Um, that's, you know, Karen said this, it's amazing community that is willing to raise their hand and come help, but in the sweat equity into places that you enjoy. The give back philosophy in this town is so strong. Um, and we're really blessed to have the ability to help, um, engage that energy and put them out on the ground. Get your hands dirty, give back to the places that you love, right, that sweat equity.
Before we go, before we go, I do want to mention parks is everywhere. Um, Colorado springs.gov/parks is where you'll find them on their great website and that'll direct you all over the place so you can explore opportunities. But then they're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever you might be. So I mean I think that's a great place to follow too because you might discover a park you never knew about or a trail.
Yeah, it could literally be around the corner cause I feel like that happens all the time. We talked about neighborhood parks and there's, there's some small parks or even big neighborhood parks like panorama that we were talking about. I didn't even know this was near me. So a, so go look at a map and then go volunteer and then find the friends group for the parks in your area as well and make sure that you're helping, helping out the parks department. I really want to thank you guys. I know it's a, it was probably nerve wracking to come onto episode one with us. I know we're hitting you with all those hard hitting questions and everything.
The bar high now. Yes. Yeah. Now. Now mayor has, I live up to what you have cause he's coming on next mayor. Suthers fantastic.
So as we, we discussed it in episode 0.5 but for listeners that didn't hear that we're doing different topics every month. Uh, our first month is parks, so talking with you two. And then next will be Matt Mayberry, Cultural Services Director as well as mayor southerners. And we're going to be talking more of the history of Colorado Springs and I think that's one a lot of people don't know that Matt is under you guys and that Pioneers Museum and uh, and the history of Colorado Springs. So I think that's going to be a fun episode and we'll hope with having mayor on episode two that we actually get past episode two cause maybe he'll just shut it all down right after he comes on with us. I think we'll have time. Yeah. Well I want to thank you guys for being on. Before we leave, Jen, um, we should go over some of the upcoming city events here, which I have over here right now and we want to add a little bit of music to the upcoming events because it's always boring when people just read what's coming up next. So here we go. This one is actually one that I'm throwing for everybody. It's a town hall on July 30th, Yolanda Abila and Richard score man for districts three and four. It's right on the line of both of those districts over at Meadows Park community center. It's going to be five 30 to seven 30. We're tacking on an extra half an hour over the usual one and a half hour town halls that we do.
Don't forget Colorado Grown day.
Don't forget that eight. We're getting there in just a second. I'm just promoting the event that I'm running here coming out. But remember July 30th and you can find more information on that on our website. Um, sustain a fest that's right up your guys' alley and that's gonna be Saturday, July 27th from noon to seven o'clock at Acacia Park. One of those historical parks that we were talking about. And then Colorado grown family fun day, and that's going to be at the Pioneers Museum on July 27th as well, that Saturday from 10 to two. So if you're already down here for sustain a fast, go on over to Colorado grown family fun day or go from one to the other, I'll get the sound effects down at some point here. This is really good. Those are strong. I know we're working strongly on our game. The only one I haven't been able to use yet because I felt too bad using it was was this one. We're going to bring the turkeys out for bureaucratic babble. If anyone's going too far with the bureaucratic Babel, the turkeys will come out, but we'll have turkeys for these guys. Good job. The Turkeys are this applause. Let's go on and our sound effects game is on point now. Um, Jen, you wanna you want to capture this one off?
Thanks for joining us. We hope to see you next time.