Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Just prairie"

The Gazette business section reported today that a 1,200-acre swath of city-owned land south of the airport will soon be transformed into a business park that will bring "4,000 to 5,000 new jobs" to an area that is now "just prairie."

The story details the kinds of businesses moving in, when work will start, and what the business park means to the local economy.

But have we, as a community, examined what we'll lose?

While some people see the area as "just prairie," others have been fighting to protect this land. The dispute has pitted city residents, and even city departments, against the city-owned airport over the best way to use public land.

What's at issue? The land holds a rare concentration of native short and tall prairie grasses including blue stem, blue grama and buffalo grass. Some have said it is the highest quality swath of prairie east of Colorado Springs. It has almost no invasive species, and the diversity of local grasses, forbes and wildflowers is impressive.

According to the Trails and Open Space Coalition:
In 2002, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program released a report describing unique conservation areas in Colorado Springs. Regarding the airport prairie, it states "Very few large patches of tallgrass prairie remain in Colorado. The Colorado Springs Airport encompasses the largest known occurrence of a big bluestem - prairie sandreed tallgrass prairie in Colorado. The community is most extensive within about two square miles south of the airport between Drennan and Powers roads and occurs in small patches within surrounding areas. The TOPS Working Committee resolution passed a resolution in 2001 stating that the airport prairie "provides majestic views of the front range, Pikes Peak, and the Spanish Peaks, affording a unique sensation of spaciousness and solitude despite its proximity to its urban and airport surroundings."

The richness of the area is not lost on the local inhabitants. A herd of perhaps 20 antelope, along with foxes, badgers, coyotes, jackrabbits, hawks, falcons and other prairie creatures thrive on this patch of land, which is adjacent to the city's Bluestem Open Space.

For about 10 years a group called The Airport Open Space Advocates has been trying to convince Colorado Springs Airport officials to protect a part of the biggest open space parcel in the city of Colorado Springs. It was all part of a grand plan to make a 6,000-acre wildlife/park corridor joining the airport open space, the Bluestem Open Space across the road, Fountain Valley School's large fields, and Fountain Creek Regional Park.

What do you think is the best use for this land? Airport business park or open space and wildlife corridor?

To learn more about the open space effort,
click here.

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