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No walk in the park

On April 1, the El Paso County Parks and Leisure Services Department held the first of several planning meetings for the proposed off-highway vehicle park at Corral Bluffs. Interested parties and individuals filled the room to capacity.Attendees included representatives from the El Paso County Environmental Services Department, the Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, the Corral Bluffs Alliance and concerned citizens and residents of Corral Bluffs.Tim Wolken, county parks director, opened the meeting by acknowledging that the proposed park is a controversial and emotional issue. Wolken encouraged everyone in attendance to remain civil and respectful. “Reasonable discussions are what we want to have as we go through this process,” he said.Jerry Haile, director of environmental services, announced that attendees would break up into four groups to facilitate discussions about the OHV park. The four groups focused on the environment: noise abatement, cultural and archaeological resources, vegetation and wildlife.”Are we supposed to be discussing in these panels whether we should have this (park) or how we should have this?” asked Lee Milner, president of the Coral Bluffs Alliance.”Tonight, we will focus on the environmental issues of this particular site,” Wolken said. “If we could focus on this that would be appreciated.”Noise abatementTim Wolken led the discussion on noise abatement, pledging that “we want to be the best neighbors we can be.” He introduced Senate Bill 63, which, if passed, would require OHV sound standards within a range of 96 db to 99 db, depending on the year the vehicle was manufactured.Jeff Cahill, Corral Bluffs resident, raised concerns about noise regulation and enforcement violations. “We’ll struggle getting the sheriff’s department to get out to issue tickets,” Wolken acknowledged.Bill Alspach, trails member, said, “As motorcycle users, we are committed to the noise issue. The trend (regarding noise) is going down all the time.” The power sports industry is doing all it can to decrease the noise of its machines, Alspach added.Many residents, however, were not satisfied. Referring to a 55db city noise level, Roberta Oxley said, “That’s why we left the city. I can’t tell you what our ambient noise is, but it is very low. To tell us to accept 55 db [at the property line] is harsh.”Wolken concluded the discussion and said the parks department will work hard to resolve the noise issue. Drawing on suggestions from the work session, the parks department will consider testing noise levels at property lines, hiring a sound professional to factor noise levels for multiple vehicles and limiting the number of bikes allowed in the park at one time.Cultural and archaeologicalThe environmental services department covered about 75 percent of the property to conduct preliminary reconnaissance work to identify possible cultural and archaeological resources at Corral Bluffs. Dr. David Hill, an anthropologist specializing in the mountain-west and southwest regions, is assisting the department with the analysis. Amber Jack, the department environmental liaison, presented a map marked with potential cultural resources. Hill defined cultural resources as those relating “to a significant person, event or that contribute to a larger knowledge of American culture or history.” To qualify as a cultural resource, artifacts must be older than 50 years, Hill said.VegetationJohn Powell of the environmental services department reported that staff is documenting vegetation in Corral Bluffs. Their objective is to identify plants, including sensitive, threatened and endangered plants in the area. Because some species are not identifiable until June, periodic observations will continue, he said.Bill Lee, a Corral Bluffs resident since 1973, raised concerns about fragile vegetation and dust issues. “We don’t have any evergreen trees that will hold the dust,” Lee said. “This stuff will blow fast. It’s not like the gravel at Cheyenne State Park up in Black Forest. It is just sand. Any disturbance and it just blows.”Dr. Jeanie Bein, a member of the Coral Bluffs Alliance, asked “If you were to find that this vegetation will be destroyed by this park, is there a possibility that you would recommend that they not go through with the park?”Powell said the environmental services department was not making recommendations. Their directive is to collect information for incorporation into the park’s master plan, he said.WildlifeThe environmental services department also is evaluating wildlife resources in Corral Bluffs and compiling a list of species observed on the property. As with the vegetation study, the process is ongoing to account for seasonal variances in wildlife species. Nancy Prieve of the department led the group discussion and asked residents and others familiar with the area to contribute to the list of known species.Many people familiar with the area are concerned about the Golden Eagle population. In their survey of the property, environmental services located a nest site. Should the OHV park be built, Colorado Division of Wildlife guidelines require a one-half mile buffer around the site, from December 15 to July 15.Burrowing owls are another species of concern. Though their presence in Corral Bluffs is not confirmed, Prieve said if the area houses prairie dog towns, burrowing owls would be nearby. Phyllis Cahill, Corral Bluffs resident, presented documentation of 75 bird species she has observed in the area.Conclusions “We just want a place to go recreate,” Alspach said. “This is an economic opportunity to the county and a place where people can be educated to ride in a responsible manner.”CMTRA is committed to educating riders, sound testing and trail maintenance, Alspach said. “There are less and less motorized trails in the mountains,” said CMTRA member John Lang. “They are getting closed off. Off-road riders like to go … where the trails are longer. Twenty miles would still be considered short, but it would still be nice to have something close.”With responsible motorized vehicle use, we should be able to enjoy the outdoors, too. I think it is elitist to shut us out of the area.””I’m worried about my property values,” Jeff Cahill said. “My retirement is wrapped up in my home and the OHV park will make it lose value. I have no other place to go.””We want a regional open space park,” Milner said. “Corral Bluffs could become part of a 3,000-acre park that would extend from Jimmy Camp Creek, along the Bluffs, up to the landfill.”Milner said that an alternate OHV park location would serve the needs of both groups. “There is an area west of 1-25, south of Fountain that backs up to Fort Carson that has good terrain,” Milner said.Attendees expressed their thoughts on the outcome of the meeting. Phyllis Cahill said the meeting was “helpful, but we didn’t get a lot of answers.””Hopefully, proponents of the park got to see that this affects real people and not elitists,” Jeff Cahill said.The next planning meeting is April 15. The time and location will be determined at a later date.For questions or to share information about wildlife, vegetation and cultural resources in Corral Bluffs, contact Tim Wolken at 719-520-7529.

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