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County 95-acre plan nears completion

The most recent iteration of the proposed master plan for 95 acres of county-owned land was unveiled Tuesday, first during a tour of the property by the commissioners and later at a community meeting.

The new plan idea is based on input received at public meetings over the course of the master planning process, as well as on more information received about the endangered Pagosa Skyrocket and a “desire to be sensitive to” the plant.

Included in the plan are several preserves for the Pagosa Skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha), an endangered species endemic to Archuleta County that was officially listed as an endangered species in August of 2011.

Also noticeable in the plan is the lack of development in wetlands areas, which would dually preserve the wetlands and allow the county to avoid any long and expensive permitting processes required to develop wetlands areas.

The plan, then, according to Axel Bishop of Design Concepts, is one-third highlands preserves (where the Skyrocket grows), one-third wetlands preservation, and one-third developed recreation opportunities.

“This is truly what I consider a Colorado park,” Bishop said Tuesday evening.

Bishop also noted the community’s desire to have a park that was both a draw to visitors and attractive to locals.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero said that the plan was along the lines of what the board envisioned when the property was purchased, but took the concept to a higher level than the board could have done on its own.

Features in the most recent version of the plan include:

• Equestrian access that can accommodate large groups (a large vehicle parking lot is planned) and equestrian amenities, which will likely be built slightly off of the county-owned land and on neighboring Western Heritage land.

• Wildlands preservation.

• Three plazas to serve as gathering places with shelters and restroom facilities.

• Multiple types of playgrounds.

• A softball complex capable of hosting tournaments and built with sensitivity to the land, such as through tiering of the fields. Bishop spoke of creating one or two high-quality fields with other, moderate-quality fields.

Commissioner Michael Whiting suggested that other flat, rectangular grassy areas be built into the plan to allow for soccer, youth football, ultimate frisbee or other uses.

• A dog park, which Bishop said is the No. 2 recreational draw for a park because a large draw of a good park is its social aspect.

• Grassy fields.

• Areas for events, on the grassy areas, at the multi-event center and in large parking lots. Bishop also spoke of a blowup screen suitable for movies.

• Looped trails with educational elements that would take off from the three plaza locations.

Bishop indicated his preference is to create varying types of trails, from single-track dirt paths to wider, more developed trails.

Mary Jo Coulehan, Chamber director, suggested educational signs placed along trails bordering wetlands (similar to those along the trail behind the town hall).

Others expressed interest in ensuring there are ADA-accessible trails on the property.

Whiting suggested that informational plaques point out elements on the horizon and not just on the ground (such as the Skyrocket).

Lucero suggested sand volleyball courts, to which Bishop responded that he is currently working to take sand volleyball courts out of two parks, adding that the courts tend to do well only near high schools and colleges.

• Stone benches and monuments.

• Potential room for a community garden, though Bishop expressed concern whether the land is the best place for a garden in terms of the ability to grow things.

• An eight- to 10-acre strip adjacent to U.S. 84 for possible commercial development.

When complete, the plan will guide uses for the property purchased by the county in December 2010, at a cost of $745,000. The purchase included 18 shares in the Park Ditch Company, providing the possibility for irrigation.

Design Concepts was chosen to complete the master plan from a field of five applicants.

The firm is based in Lafayette, Colo., but uses subcontractors, such as Reynolds and Associates, Davis Engineering, SME Environmental and GreenPlay LLC.

Additionally, SME Environmental worked with the former developers of the land (Blue Sky Village), and completed a wetland analysis of the land, giving them beneficial background knowledge of the parcel.

The cost of the master plan is $53,545 and is being paid from the county’s Conservation Trust Fund (state lottery proceeds afforded to the county) — the same fund used to pay for the land.

In order it be completed for the next Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant cycle that closes Aug. 29, the BoCC is slated to approve the master plan on Aug. 23, with a special meeting likely being scheduled for the following days to approve submitting a grant.

At that meeting, Bishop will have the completed plan, as well and construction and maintenance cost figures for the various elements.

Bishop suggested the county work on a parallel path to create a grant submission as the plan is finished.

“No doubt, we’re going to have to do this in phases,” said County Administrator Greg Schulte. Discussions at the meeting suggested implementing either roads or trails first to make the property accessible to the public as quickly as possible.

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