TOPS program

Colorado Springs TOPS program

What is TOPS and what does it do?

Initially passed as a citizen’s initiative in 1997, renewed in 2003, revamped in 2013 and extended & amended in 2023 with a 2043 sunset, the TOPS (Trails, Open spaces and Parks) program is likely the most popular and successful tax measure in the history of Colorado Springs. TOPS is a 0.1% city sales and use tax that today raises about $12M/yr.  Since 2003 measure has specified that 3% of the fund be used for administration, 6% for maintenance and operations of any TOPS property, and the remaining 91% is allocated 60% for Open Space, 20% for Parks and 20% for Trails. Budgets proposed for the TOPS program receive citizen input through the TOPS working committee, and are subject to regular audits to ensure compliance with the ordinance. You can read the ordinance here.

Since TOPS was first approved by voters in 1997, over 7,500 acres of open space has been acquired, 67 parks have been built or improved, and more than 53 miles of trail have been constructed with TOPS funding.  To learn more, please visit the city’s website or check out this storymap created by former MedWheel board member Mike Rigney.

Since the beginning, the 20% Trails category has been used for regional and urban trails, not singletrack. Singletrack, when funded by TOPS, has usually been supported from the 60% Open Space category. In addition to acquiring new open spaces, master planning processes, trailheads (including parking lots and bathrooms) and trail construction have been funded from the OS category.

Specific TOPS projects that our members appreciate most:

Red Rock Canyon OS including funding construction of several trails including Lion Trail. Stratton OS. Austin Bluffs OS. Half of Ute Valley Park (the HP side). PikeView quarry frontage property makes up ~1/3 of the Blodgett OS (all purchased by TOPS), with the quarry itself still slated to be donated to the city and turned into a world class bike park, following remediation over the next ~2 years. Black Canyon quarry – envisioned to become a new trailhead for the Williams & Waldo area after remediation (timeframe not yet determined). Shooks Run, Sand Creek TrailsUnion MeadowsBlueStem Prairie OS. El Pomar Youth Bike Park at Hillside gardens and more. All 3 phases of Blodgett OS were purchased with TOPS funds, and the new Fishers Canyon OS is destined to be a popular addition with valuable trail connections to extend the Chamberlain trail.

MedWheel involvement with TOPS

MedWheel staff and volunteers have been consistently involved with TOPS discussions for over 15 years. We attend most monthly TOPS working committee meetings and advocate for more and better trails on behalf of our members and all trail users. In November 2021, issue 2c was proposed to extend, expand and change TOPS. Our board raised concerns with the wording of 2c but eventually supported the measure, see our statement here. When measure 2C failed, MedWheel brought together many of the voices that opposed the measure, and negotiated with CS Mayor Suthers and other city leaders to improve the language to include additional safeguards within the OS category, so that a minimum of 75% of that category must be used for acquiring new open spaces. Our concern, and that of many long time TOPS advocates, was that without such a safeguard, over the next 20 years there would be too much temptation to convert TOPS into a maintenance and operations fund. To be clear – we fully support funding for maintenance and operations of our Parks system, but we suggest that other sources should be used for this, not just TOPS. Specifically we suggest increased allocations from the city’s General Fund to support these needs.

It was a major advocacy win when our negotiations were successful, and Issue 1 at the April 2023 ballot was passed by the voters with a margin of almost 4:1. This ensures that for the next 20 years, TOPS will continue to have the power to purchase and protect new open spaces for the public good, providing places for new trails that will serve our growing community.