COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County has settled on two possible locations for a northern-based nature center and is wrapping up a study that will determine the feasibility of the project as a whole.
"We want to do this wisely," says Todd Marts, cultural services manager for El Paso County Parks, "so we want to look at all the potential and opportunities and make sure that before we start planning a nature center we do our due diligence looking at locations, funding, all of that."
Research has identified Black Forest and Fox Run Regional Parks, already county properties, as ideal locations for the potential development.
Initially proposed as part of the 2013 County Parks Master Plan , the project is partly a response to the county's increasing population.
"This wasn't just us thinking, 'well, it'd be nice to have a nature center up north,' there was a survey done and a master plan study done years ago and this was one of the things that the public identified as a community need," says Marts.
Heavily used by El Paso residents, the county reports the existing Bear Creek Nature Center and Fountain Creek Nature Center are close to reaching saturation points in regards to programming participation and site usage.
"We want them to have a great outdoor experience, and when you're lined up going down the trail, that's not the kind of experience we're looking for."
The ongoing study includes research into options of community collaboration as well as a wide array of educational programming and potential partnerships.
"One of the best examples of a logical partnership is with wildlife [rehabilitators]. There's a need in the community, it's a great opportunity for us to fulfill our mission of creating stewards with volunteers, releasing wildlife back into the natural environment."
County representatives also believe the partnership could continue fulfill their mission of creating stewards of the environment inside the El Paso County populace. There is a definite need for new wildlife rehabilitators in the region.
"This is a community situation," says Linda Cope, a former wildlife rehabilitator, "Colorado is known for its wildlife and we need to be proud of them and we need to take care of them. And as our population as people grows, we are displacing the wildlife. It is a community problem and needs to be handled in a community way."
Currently, the county has found no concrete funding sources that would allow them to pursue a wildlife rehab partnership option, but Marts remains hopeful.
"It's going to be a challenge to fund the nature center construction and maintenance down the road. [however] if it's a nature center/rehab facility, it more than doubles it. So that's just an expense, and we need to figure that out and we need groups to come to us and we're looking for potential partnerships to make that happen," comments Marts.
The feasibility study is scheduled to wrap up in October of this year.
"I think that the next step is to start planning the actual site and facility," says Marts, "and at the same time looking at funding and where it will come from; not only to build and do the site plan, but also long term."