Speak up for Jones Park

At long last, a revised Jones Park master plan draft has been released by El Paso County Parks. Feedback is being accepted until May 31, by sending an email to parks@elpasoco.com.

A Jones Park community open house was held May 16. At this time of writing, MedWheel believes that the draft needs work. Our discussions with county leaders are ongoing.

MedWheel and other groups, having participated in the public process leading up to it, supported much of the 2020 draft master plan. However there were a few points which needed addressing in order to move forward. The major issue was how potential future trails, or aspirational trails, were excluded from that draft. The draft did not show all of the trails proposed by the consultants, and were a result of a public process in 2019.

Why did earlier drafts omit some of the trails suggested by the consultants? On the surface, the reason provided by county staff is simple – Bear Creek contains the only surviving population of a unique fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act; the Greenback Cutthroat trout (GBCT), which also happens to be Colorado’s state fish. The GBCT, while not native to this drainage, and having gone extinct in its home in the Platte river, contributes to the biodiversity and the history of the state of Colorado. If we are to save this precarious population of GBCT, there is clearly value in a conservative approach to planning future activities in Jones Park.

The details are more nuanced.  The Jones Park Property was previously owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, and was transferred to El Paso County in 2013, with a strong vision from the county commissioners to have local control of this beloved area so valuable to citizens across the community. After a lawsuit related to the GBCT, the watershed was subject to a federal NEPA process, which resulted in a Final Decision Notice (FDN) issued by the US Forest Service in 2016. A condition imposed on the transfer to the county in 2013 was completion of, and future compliance with the NEPA process and the FDN. In order to monitor the county’s adherence to these requirements, Jones Park was placed under a permanent conservation easement, which is held by Palmer Land Conservancy. The city of Colorado Springs also retains a deed restriction on Jones through CS Utilities. On top of this, while not a direct decision maker IN the county’s Jones Park process, the US Forest Service is a neighbor with a major stake in the property. The USFS was sued in 2012, and served with a second Notice of Intent to sue, in relation to Jones Park, and they have asked the county not to develop more trails in the area as a result.

Good news for the fish and for trail lovers: Palmer Land’s conservation easement (CE) on the county property requires that all future trails proposed in Jones Park must be described in a master plan, and must be a result of a public process. Recreational access is guaranteed through the CE as well. The CE states that before construction of any trails not described in the FDN, additional consultation is required to ensure the conservation values are upheld and are not in conflict with the FDN. A major part of this consultation that is designed to provide additional protection for the GBCT is consultation with the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

MedWheel supports conservation of the natural world, and we respect the Endangered Species Act and the outcomes of the NEPA process. We agree that the additional requirements including consultation with USFWS are appropriate in order to ensure maximum protection for the only population of our state fish. 

We also note that the stringent conditions of the CE provide sufficient constraints on consideration of future trail development, in order to provide protection for the GBCT. Our request in this master plan draft is that is should accurately reflect these constraints, within the context of our community desire to visit Jones Park for sustainable recreation.  

The current draft plan does not reflect the correct balance on this point. Our conversations with the county on this topic are ongoing.