Trail Talk: Colorado Springs residents dubbed ‘ultra-users’ of parks, trails

By: Susan Davies, Special to The Gazette

We have a new name – “ultra-users.” The Trust for Public Lands recently completed a 30-page study quantifying the “Economic Benefits of Parks and Recreation” in Colorado Springs and was astounded by the high percentage of our population that use our parks and trails on a regular basis. We ranked higher than any other city they’ve studied to date. (In fact they went back and checked their numbers because they doubted their results.) They dubbed us ultra-users.

Had they visited on a weekend and tried to park at Red Rock Canyon Open Space or spent any Tuesday night on the Pikes Peak Greenway, they would have witnessed firsthand our affection for motion and green space. It’s in our DNA. Those born here have carried that connection since the days of Gen. William Jackson Palmer and his vision for our community. Those of us who arrived later fell in love with wild places within reach.

Of course we’re out using it! We fill our days with tasks and meetings, but when it’s time to recharge we all have our favorite places.

The purpose of the study was to calculate in real dollars what parks do for each of us and the greater community. Each time we choose to take a hike on a local trail instead of catching a movie or going bowling, there is a cost savings. A house located near a park or trail will sell at a higher price and the community benefits in higher property tax collections. Our acres of parks and miles of trails translate into health care cost benefits, air quality benefits and even stormwater benefits. Rain that falls on roads and parking lots flows directly into creeks. Parks absorb rain and lessen the threat of flooding.

Finally, you need tennis shoes, a bicycle or a pickleball racket to enjoy the varied aspects of our parks. That contributes to the local economy in sports-related jobs and sales tax revenue.

Conservation economists have confirmed what many of us suspected: Parks contribute millions annually to our community. But because it’s not new millions or new jobs, this revelation is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves. On the other hand, if you’re a high-tech startup or a high-end hotel or sporting goods retailer looking for a city where tourism is growing, a city of “ultra-users” might be very attractive.

Susan Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. Read her columns on the fourth Monday of each month.

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