By: Conrad Swanson, The Gazette
The vision of a world class mountain bike park potentially covering the gigantic scar on Colorado Springs' northwest side now has some unlikely financial backing.
A million dollars of backing, to be exact.
William Hybl, CEO of the El Pomar Foundation, announced Thursday that the philanthropic foundation has committed $100,000 a year for a decade to underwrite the city's operational expenses on a yet-to-be-built bike park.
Transit Mix Concrete, which has said it would sell the land to the city at a discounted rate if it receives permission to mine the Hitch Rack Ranch property south of Colorado Springs, released preliminary plans last week for the park at the company's Pikeview Quarry.
The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board denied Transit Mix's first application to mine the Hitch Rack Ranch property and the company is applying again to mine a smaller portion of the land. The board is set to make a decision in late April.
Earlier this year, El Pomar's board of trustees - which rarely takes a stance on such issues - unanimously voted in opposition of the Hitch Rack Ranch project. The foundation has been deeded a piece of land, which is set to become a preservation area, along the proposed quarry's boundary and a quarry next door would harm the preservation effort, foundation representatives have said.
Hybl doubled down on the foundation's position Thursday.
"This is a complex issue because we're vehemently opposed to the Hitch Rack Ranch quarry and that hasn't changed. We still think that another scar on the mountain is not what this community deserves," Hybl said.
Regardless, the foundation's financial commitment to the city is irrevocable and does not specify a particular site for the project, Hybl said.
"Wherever they put the sports park, we're going to support it," he said.
Hybl said he doesn't see a connection between Transit Mix donating the Pikeview Quarry to the city and opening a new quarry. Nor does he think the foundation's financial backing is unlikely or out of character. In nearly a century the foundation's charitable donations for similar facilities have totaled almost $100 million, he said.
"If (Transit Mix) wants to give Pikeview to the city, I think that's fine," he said. "I applaud anyone with charitable intent."
However, Hybl said he doubts such a park will be a tenable option for the Pikeview area because of its potential for landslides.
The Colorado Geological Survey indicates the area is susceptible to landslides.
Transit Mix spokesman Daniel Cole said selling Pikeview to the city at a discounted rate hinges on the company being able to mine Hitch Rack Ranch. The new site would offset aggregate lost by closing Pikeview.
In a release, Transit Mix President Jerald Schnabel praised the foundation's investment and said the company would be "honored to partner with El Pomar in this project for the betterment of our shared community."
Cole disputed Hybl's claim that the proposed quarry would create a visible scar. Transit Mix has promoted what it calls a "4-for-1" deal in exchange for the Hitch Rack Ranch project. It offered to end operations at Pikeview up to 20 years ahead of schedule, expedite reclamation at that quarry and the Black Canyon Quarry and shut down its batch plants on North Nevada Avenue and Costilla Street.
Opponents have dismissed the offer, saying Transit Mix is merely repackaging existing obligations for the company.
Residents who live near the proposed quarry site, off Colorado 115 near Little Turkey Creek Road, have argued that mining could threaten valuable wildlife habitat and pose a risk to the area's water supply, which is stored in a fragile network of underground cracks.
Parks Director Karen Palus said there is no timeline for selecting a final location or an estimated cost of the project.
Hybl said the money is available for the city to use at its convenience, though if it goes unused for, say, six years or so, the offer could be revoked.
Fortunately, the project could be completed in phases, Palus said, which takes some pressure off the city.
But, it could still be years before the park becomes a reality. It appears little has been done to examine its feasibility, aside from the renderings released by Transit Mix, which were not technical in nature.
Nevertheless, Mayor John Suthers and Palus expressed their gratitude for the investment.
The new park, wherever it might be built, is a new step in Colorado Springs "quietly becoming, in my view, the best place to be a cyclist in America," said Derek Bouchard-Hall, president and CEO of the USA Cycling Association.
The project would help young cyclists remain lifelong patrons of the sport, make Colorado Springs a better place to live and provide additional training options for the elite athletes who already flock to the city, Bouchard-Hall said.
That possible recreational boost also plays into Colorado Springs' recent ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the second best place to live in the country, Suthers said. The city was topped only by Austin, Texas.
Colorado Springs' quality of life was a high mark for its ranking, Suthers said, and a new bike park would only boost that factor further.
"Watch out, Austin," Suthers said.