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Friends group: Expand Ute Valley Park before HP land is developed
If you have ever hiked or biked through Ute Valley Park, there’s a good chance you are guilty of trespassing.
Not that you’d know it. It’s hard to find a “no trespassing” or “private property” sign on the 200 acres of urban woodland on the park’s east side, land so interspersed with social trails it blends seamlessly into the northwest Colorado Springs park.
The land is owned by Hewlett-Packard, and neighbors have watched with concern as the technology company has downsized and demolished buildings on its campus. The open land is roughly between Popes Valley Drive and Rockrimmon Boulevard. Might the troubled company, hurt by customers’ switch from personal computers to tablets, sell the land for development?
Such concerns were the impetus for neighbors to form the Friends of Ute Valley Park in recent months.
“We know, since people use it like a park anyway, there would be a lot of people surprised it really wasn’t a park,” said Dan Woods, president of the group. “And if it all of a sudden were developed, they’d be cut off from using the property.”
They hope to convince the city’s Trails, Open Space and Parks program, funded by a voter-approved sales tax, to buy the land.
It’s not a new concept. The land has been identified for park expansion in the city’s master plan since 1997, with a new trail connecting the Pikes Peak Greenway and the park. But the city’s overtures have been one-sided, with HP “not being necessarily ready to have a conversation,” said Chris Lieber, manager of the city’s TOPS program.
The park, known for its mountain-biking trails, views of Rampart Range and abundance of rattlesnakes, was developed in the 1970s. For a long time, it was used mostly by neighbors, overshadowed by the city’s more prominent parks.
“We’d walk and not see anybody, and pretty soon you saw more people, and then with the development of the mountain bike, you had to be more careful with mountain bikes flying through,” said Friends group member Phil Emmert.
Last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire, which left other trails in that part of town unusable, has only increased use. The Friends spent two days surveying park users in January, and 80 percent didn’t know part of the land was private property.
Such is the love for Ute Valley that, with no advertising or Internet presence, the Friends have heard from 150 people interested in working on trails there. They hope to close social trails and install trail signs, at least on the public land.
As for the private land, the group plans to submit an application to the TOPS program for money to buy the property, and if the TOPS Working Committee approves, the city would approach HP again. But it’s a moot point if HP isn’t willing to sell. The city works only with willing sellers, Lieber said.
HP spokesman Michael Thacker said in an email, “HP continually reviews its real estate portfolio to best use its space. This initiative allows HP to achieve long-term efficiencies and cost savings. However, I cannot at this time give further specifics about future plans for HP’s real estate in the Colorado Springs area.”
Still, the Friends are optimistic the time is right for a deal. Ute Valley Park covers 338 acres, so any deal on the HP land could expand it by 60 percent.
“We think we have a compelling case and this has been on the city’s master plan for a number of years,” said Woods. “We’re going to provide a whole bunch of trail volunteers to do maintenance, education, etc.”