Our community's leading contribution to environmental stewardship is a testament to bold thinking and consideration of future generations. Some 60 years removed from this landmark protection, we face tension in striking the balance between stasis and evolution. With nearly six million visitors annually, our Open Space experiences the crowds, usage, and erosion similar to that of our most popular National Parks. With nearly 6 million visitors annually, we face many of the same challenges our iconic National Parks face. These challenges include a backlog of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, insufficient parking to meet demand, balancing the needs of conservation and recreation enthusiasts, and all the while trying to ensure there is equitable access to our public lands. In my time serving on the Board of Directors for the Boulder Open Space Conservancy, we have looked to engage public philanthropy to help fill some of the funding gaps in our Open Space Budget. This type of work can be expanded and to make more of a difference, but we need the City to take this issue more seriously. How does a community like Boulder, the biggest “small town” in Colorado, keep the small town feel of our Open Space and Mountain Parks while still managing to address the impacts of National Park level usage?
As David Attenborough has said, “No one will protect what they don’t know about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”.
Here are three things I would prioritize to improve our Open Space and Mountain Parks:
Expand Trail Access to Avoid Reservations and Fees
We are seeing reservation and fee systems become the norm throughout many of our National Parks (e.g. Rocky Mountain National Park, etc.) and even our National Recreational Areas (e.g. Brainard Lake Recreation Area). I want to avoid this at all costs since as soon as we embark on a reservation or fee system, we immediately turn our Open Space into privileged land and not public land. With increasing demand, we can either limit the number of people or spread those people out over a larger area. I would like to enlist a study that clearly defines areas of conservation and critical habitat and the varying degrees of them throughout our open space system. This will inform us where and how we can add more trails and connectors throughout our Open Space system with minimal impacts to sensitive ecosystems and habitats.
Tackle Our Deferred Maintenance
We need to get serious about chipping away at our nearly $40 million of deferred maintenance. Being proper stewards of the land means we are actively taking care of it in a timely manner. The more people come to enjoy our Open Space, the more maintenance we need to perform. If we are already behind in our maintenance by $40 million, there is little hope to catch up without considering options such as a new sales tax or a bond to pay for this badly-needed maintenance. We shouldn’t kick the can down the road for future generations to deal with. This is how we do our part to care for our environment.
Support Our Agricultural Community
Nearly a third (roughly 15,000 acres) of all our City Open Space is agricultural land. I would like us to better support our agricultural community. Enhancing the climate resiliency and economic vitality of these farmers and ranchers directly meets our climate goals and our community values centered around organic-locally grown food and products. Be it through the Boulder County Farmers Market or our fantastic restaurants, we all enjoy and have become dependent on these local products. Agriculture plays a key role in climate resiliency and we need to help our agricultural community evolve beyond sustainable practices into that of regenerative agricultural work. Its an important distinction as “sustainable” implies maintaining the status quo, whereas “regenerative” embodies the action of putting back into the land more than you took from it. With the help of local businesses like "Mad Agriculture" and others, we can lead a renaissance of 21 century agriculture that is both more productive and more consistent with our values.