BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
Arapahoe County Open Spaces (ACOS) is a department of 35 employees and many volunteers. It is funded by a countywide sales tax of one-fourth of one percent, which comes to 25 cents on every one hundred dollars. Of the $28 million of tax collected annually, half is shared back to all cities and towns in the county for spending on open space projects in their jurisdictions. Another 27 percent of the tax collected is used for trail development and open space land acquisition in the county. Of the remaining revenue, 12 percent is used for competitive grant opportunities in the county, four percent is for designated heritage areas, and three percent is dedicated to open space maintenance costs. Only four percent is used for administrative expenses. The exact distribution is illustrated below.
The quarter-of-one-percent tax was authorized by the voters in 2003 for ten years and re-authorized in 2007 for another ten years. The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners is considering asking the voters to approve the tax again this November before it expires in 2023.
In a recent telephone and online town hall event, Shannon Carter, ten-year director of ACOS, and members of his staff presented the just-completed draft Open Spaces Master Plan that was prepared after a year of research and community engagement. Its purpose is to chart the course for the next ten years, defining opportunities for conserving and enhancing natural lands and water resources, closing the gaps in the county’s outdoor recreation network, setting priorities for programming, encouraging more residents to spend time in the county’s open spaces, refining operations and maintenance practices, and ensuring a sustainable long-term future for the program.”
The purpose of the ACOS program, as stated in the draft master plan, is to “preserve urban and rural open space and natural lands; protect the land that preserves water quality in rivers, lakes and streams; provide, maintain and improve neighborhood parks, open space, sports fields, picnic facilities, and biking, walking and multiuse trails; protect wildlife habitat and corridors; protect views, vistas and ridgelines; preserve agricultural and ranch lands; and enhance and maintain designated heritage areas.”
The community engagement portion of the master plan was to engage the public on values, needs, resources, and vision; strategies, priorities and an action plan. The results included information received from 1,561 public surveys, 43 stakeholder surveys, and 12 detailed interviews. Public outreach findings are grouped in the themes shown above:
The Master Plan objectives, after analyzing all the data and public input, are to:
- Provide equitable access to nature
- Maintain ecosystem health and resilience
- Support a sustainable system through programming, operations, and maintenance
- Align plans and policies to maximize the impact of Open Spaces
- Protect the future of the Arapahoe County Open Spaces system
In response to a question from a resident, it was announced that the county’s largest community event, the Arapahoe County Fair, is planned to be held on July 22-25. Visitor safety and public health guidelines will be announced, but it will be similar to the one in 2019. More information about events and activities will be posted online.
Another town hall participant wanted to know if e-bikes and e-scooters were permitted on Arapahoe County trails. The answer was, “Yes, if it’s a class one bike. Some class three e-bikes and e-scooters are restricted. We follow the state guidelines.”
On the question of who has the right-of-way on trails, Glen Poole, operations manager at ACOS, said, “Bikers must yield to other trail users and everyone yields to equestrian riders. We have signs on our trails to reinforce safety, etiquette, and speed limits. We also have taken other precautions to help folks better recreate on these multi-use trails and to help folks understand how to be safe on a multi-use trail.”