Imagine a meadow at sunrise: tall wild grasses covered in dew and birdsong rippling out into still silence. A small clump of mule deer graze peacefully; a fox pauses on its way back to a hidden den. Nothing exists but the sky and the grass and the scrubby mountains in the near distance.
Now imagine bulldozers, a food pavilion, trashcans filled with garbage, and aluminum cans tossed out onto the concrete covering once dew-filled grass. Add a horse stable blocking the view of the mountains that is filled with horses to trample the grass once grazed upon by deer. While extreme, this description paints a picture of the changes that may be on their way. With a controversial land swap proposed by the Broadmoor Hotel, a piece of land called Strawberry Fields in Cheyenne Cañon may soon develop.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park is one of the oldest parks in the park system, set aside a few years after the founding of Colorado Springs. It was acquired in pieces. In 1885, more than 600 acres were acquired from our very own Colorado College when former president Edward Tenney sold it in the midst of financial troubles and a public uprising led by Helen Hunt Jackson (also an advocate for Native American rights) to stop the toll for use of the area. The city voted to acquire the lands through taxing themselves and ended up buying the land for the grand total of $5,175. The next parcel of Cheyenne Cañon was acquired from General Palmer who had owned Helen Hunt Falls and part of Gold Camp Road. After Palmer’s purchase, land came from Fred Chamberlain in 1937. Land trades in 2000 added Hully Gully (known for its spectacular waterfall that freezes over for excellent ice climbing in the winter) and Mt. Cutler. The south canyon is still privately owned at this time, including Seven Falls which is owned by the Broadmoor.
Within this conglomeration of land, Strawberry Fields is what could be called the “forgotten gem.” Just under 200 acres, this area has never been developed and has been all but forgotten. It represents a sort of catch 22. Because it was never developed, no signage was put up for the park, so no one knew it was there. Now, this piece of land may be given away in the land trade.
The land swap between Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor is as follows: the 200 acres of Strawberry Fields would be traded for parcels of land including 208 acres on the backside of Mt. Muscoco, eight acres near Bear Creek Park, land near the base of the Barr Trail, and the Manitou Incline (a total of over 300 acres). What a deal, right?
Well, maybe not. While it is true that the city would gain more acreage with the land swap, much of the land is practically inaccessible, hard to maintain, or already available to the city without ownership. For instance, the backside of Mt. Muscoco is extremely steep terrain and has not been maintained. In addition, while it may sound beneficial to own the Manitou Incline, the city already has a user agreement and the upkeep of this extremely popular destination would be extremely costly for the city. The same is true of the Barr trail; it has been accessible to the city since the 1920s without ownership of the trail. Meanwhile, the Broadmoor stands to gain an extremely valuable portion of land without paying a cent and also get rid of land that either is relatively invaluable or costly to maintain. Therefore, it seems that the “trade” is more of a crooked deal that allows the Broadmoor to get rid of unwanted and costly land in exchange for a magnificent and untouched 200 acres of which one-third is easily developed.
Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit that has been actively contesting this land swap since January 2016, also brings legal issues into the picture. Strawberry Fields was designated as a park by citizens who decided to tax themselves in order to buy it. Thus, the reality is that the city has no authority to give it away. Additionally, the Broadmoor conducted self-appraisals that don’t appear to have accurately accounted for the value of the properties under consideration or the cost of upkeep that they require. Save Cheyenne claims that Strawberry Fields is worth at least two times the amount that the Broadmoor has appraised it for, making the deal appear to be one in which the Broadmoor benefits from swapping unwanted land in exchange for land able to be developed.
So why is the city even considering giving up Strawberry Fields? One reason may be that Broadmoor is a political force in Colorado Springs, owning over 5,000 acres, and there is a compliant political system willing to cater to this power. Adding to this, the community isn’t willing to fully invest in park upkeep and therefore under political pressure is more willing to give in to the Broadmoor. Yet another problem is the lack of knowledge about Strawberry Fields including where it is and how to access it.
Strawberry Fields is easily accessible; about five minutes from Mesa Avenue is a dirt parking area near a meadow that gives Strawberry Fields its name. Strictly speaking, if developed, Strawberry Fields could be just as useful as Stratton open space, as it is two-thirds the size with adequate trails and parking. Meanwhile, in the land swap, the city is taking on liabilities of the Incline and the Barr Trail: liabilities that include areas invaded by the Tussock moth that creates tree death. If the city was unable to maintain trails in the relatively low liability Strawberry Fields area, the budget will not be able to cover the additional acreage with more human traffic.
In the end, it’s not about the money or the liabilities taken on with new land; it’s about conserving open spaces and honoring the fact that there are amazing parks in Colorado Springs. You may be surprised to learn that up until about 20 years ago, there were no open spaces in Colorado Springs, and while Colorado Springs currently has about 5,000 acres of parkland, this space pales in comparison to about 50,000 acres in Larimer county and about 100,000 acres in Boulder.
It may seem that Colorado Springs has a plethora of parks and open spaces (TripAdvisor even ranks Garden of the Gods as the second-most well-known park in the country, just behind New York’s Central Park), however, there aren’t very many in comparison to other places in Colorado—and we may be about to lose 200 acres of that land to the Broadmoor Hotel: a hotel that plans to turn Strawberry Fields into a wedding venue, food pavilion, and riding stable, effectively creating a visual discrepancy to be seen from every hiking area in the canyon.
To learn more about this issue, go to savecheyenne.org; there is plenty to learn about the legal case, and an informative nine-minute video by the attorney for the case.