A Colorado park, better with friends

By Trust for Public Land
Published May 27, 2015

A Colorado park, better with friends

Colorado is famous for its rugged backcountry, but most people still rely on community parks for getting outdoors. Ute Valley Park in Colorado Springs is one example. A suburban oasis packed with hiking trails, mountain biking, and even some bouldering spots, it’s got something for everyone—despite being almost completely surrounded by development.

In fact, Ute Valley had become such a staple in its neighbors’ lives than many didn’t know much of the land they thought of as part of the park was privately owned. When a large chunk of property came up for sale, a few curious neighbors started asking around to see what could be done to protect it from development. Dan Woods, now president of Friends of Ute Valley Park, was one.

“When we talked to the city and The Trust for Public Land about trying buy the property, they said it’d be helpful if we’d organize a ‘friends’ group that could show some skin in the game. And we said, sure, we can do that … even though we’d never done anything like it before.”

They might have been newbies at community organizing, but Dan and his neighbors quickly found that Ute Valley had a loyal following of supporters ready to step up and help. They pulled together a team of dedicated volunteers, held fundraisers at local restaurants and breweries, and assembled private donations. Months of hard work paid off: the group raised more than $100,000 toward protecting and maintaining the park for the public.

With Ute Valley now expanded by more than 200 acres, the group has shifted its focus to caring for the land they love. Volunteers recently surveyed visitors to gather data for a new park master plan. They also organize regular community meetings and work days to tend to the heavily used network of hiking and biking trails. (No surprise, the city even named them 2014’s Friends Group of the Year.)

We asked Dan what advice he’d give other people who are thinking of starting or joining a park “friends” group. His top tip?”Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Focus on finding other people that have a real passion for the park, and put your heads together.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why The Trust for Public Land is proud to help advocates like the Friends of Ute Valley Park protect community open space around the country. If you’ve volunteered with a local park group or trail-building crew, we want to thank you—and hear your story! Leave us a comment, or join us on Facebook.

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