City Council reviews Soda Springs Park Phase II Master Plan

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The west end of Soda Springs Park was under construction in June 2021.

Manitou deserves something unique. – Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Fortuin

By William J. Dagendesh

At the Jan. 24 work session, Manitou Springs City Council discussed the Soda Springs Park Phase II Master Plan and recommended that revisions be made before moving forward.

The plan encourages using stormwater best management practices and porous pavements in combination with small local area drains. Located near the west end of Manitou Springs, SSP features a playground, pavilion, picnic tables, walking trails and access to Fountain Creek.

The Manitou Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board kicked off the discussion. According to Parks and Recreation Director John Stark, Phase I of the project was completed in fall 2021 with future phases slated for completion in the near future. On May 9, 2022, the city hosted a community engagement meeting for Phase II of the project.

Stark said the master plan was presented to City Council on Oct. 18, 2022, and councilors questioned the amount of concrete to be used and the absence of a water feature.

During the discussion, PARAB Chair Danu Fatt said she hoped Council and PARAB could agree on the elements Council has identified as concerns in the master plan.

“It is our hope we can come up with some agreeable compromises that will be acceptable to council and PARAB. Through multiple community meetings and input, we developed a shell of what we have been working with, and with time it has evolved with additional public feedback PARAB received with each phase,” Fatt said.

The master plan showed that significant resources, including funds and staff time, were put into the public process and design. Additional funding would be needed for the design team to make any changes necessary for a final approved master plan.

SSP is in the early process of going through improvements to its eastern side, after the first improvements were finished last summer. This includes adding a rock-climbing playground, grass field and creek access steps. The plan calls for playground equipment additions ranging from a tipi carousel (a spacious, inclusive spinner that invites kids to whirl while lying, sitting or standing), woodland fort, mushroom stepping stones and a timber tower.

The city and Hord Coplan Macht landscape architects reached out to the community during an in-person public presentation in the park and through an online survey to collect input and ideas. Much of that feedback was used to prepare updates and revisions to the initial master plan concept.

One survey question asked was, “How often do you visit the park and playground?” Most residents surveyed said they visit the park several times weekly, with some reporting visits only during the summer. Another question, “Do you live in Manitou Springs?” showed that most responders live within city limits.

Also, 40 percent of the people surveyed said the park’s proximity to the creek topped the list of what they liked best about SSP. One responder said “Familiar faces” is what they like best. “We live on Manitou Ave., so we love to meet up with the neighbor kids and play.”

Another question posed, “What other playground equipment or park features do you think should be at SSP?” drew a variety of responses. One resident said, “The mushroom steppers are really cool. Maybe another set of swings or more climbing options.” Another responder offered, “An off-leash dog area would be cool. A community greenhouse would be amazing.”

The question, “Do you have any ideas for how SSP could be improved?” drew mixed reactions. One responder replied, “This park looks neglected, dated, dry, parched. Unloved. For a main downtown park, a shame on Manitou. This place should have music and fun events under the pavilion, but the rest of the park should be a park, not a gravel yard.”

Council questioned excluding a water feature, and installing synthetic turf, concrete and a parking lot. Hord Coplan Macht Principal Robyn Bartling said her peers believe the water feature should be omitted due to cost ($500,000-$1 million) and maintenance.

“We figured the beach and creek would offer plenty of water to fulfill the element of a water feature. We decided the money saved would be put into other park amenities,” Bartling said.

Mayor John Graham said he is opposed to adding a water feature.

“I think about expense and maintenance. … I am not a strong proponent of a water feature,” he said.

However, Myor Pro Tem Nancy Fortuin disagreed, emphasizing that a water feature offers a “sense of place” for the park. “Manitou deserves something unique and I think a fountain would contribute to that,” she said.

Councilor Julie Wolfe added, “Maybe we could look at (obtaining) a nice water feature, nothing special …” Councilor Michelle Whetherhult said she would like to see more information on a water feature.

Councilor John Shada suggested looking into a water feature at a later date.

“My biggest concern is how to get the biggest bang for our buck and ‘wow’ factor in the park. To me, the water feature is something we can do in a subsequent phase,” Shada said.

Council also discussed installing synthetic turf, its cost and cleaning properties. Fortuin, who dislikes artificial turf, said, “I believe our parks are a place where people should be able to come and enjoy natural grass,” Fortuin said.

Shada questioned the cost of synthetic turf compared to standard turf. Graham said he prefers artificial turf as natural grass can be difficult to maintain. However, Wolfe said she would rather provide residents with a park that boasts real grass even if it means having to eliminate major events in the park.

Wolfe also said she is against installing a parking lot in the park.

“It’s cheesy and unattractive. I don’t want to see pedestrians and kids playing in a park that has a parking lot,” Wolfe said. Councilor Natalie Johnson agreed, adding, “I think we could do with a loading/unloading zone instead of a parking lot.”

Shada recommended that PARAB provide another updated master plan and set of drawings before moving forward.

“We should look at it (master plan) and ask if it makes sense, or did we make some bad decisions that we need to revisit? What can we do that will provide some unity?” Shada said.

Councilor Judith Chandler applauded PARAB members for their efforts on the master plan.

“This is a phenomenal plan. With a project of this scope, I think it is wonderful that we had only a few things we questioned. I feel we’re at a great place and kudos to PARAB for doing a phenomenal job,” she said.

Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7.

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