Health focus in Open Space master plan criticized by advisory committee members

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By Sandy Barnes

The relationship between open space and public health gets an inordinate amount of attention in a second draft of the master plan for Jeffco Parks and Open Space, according to some members of the advisory committee.

“I think there is an inordinate amount of text devoted to community health,” Jan Wilkins said while reviewing the second draft of the plan with other committee members last Thursday night.

“There are so many aspects of open space,” Wilkins said. “There should be a more comprehensive description of what we do.”

Wayne Forman, chairman of the Open Space Advisory Committee, also questioned the degree of emphasis on health in the 2013 draft of the plan. 

“I’m not a fan of maladies and ways to deal with them,” Forman said. “I would re-draft the plan with the focus on essential elements.”

The “Desired Emphasis” section of the master plan draft states: “Colorado’s healthy reputation is in critical condition. Rising rates of obesity, heart disease and smoking and self-reported lack of physical activity are alarming. … Activity in the outdoors is one tool to reversing these health trends.”

That section of the draft also discusses how physical activity can improve cardiovascular and mental health, as well as stressing the overall importance of outdoor recreation for children, families and senior adults.

“We acquire open space with a default to allow public access. I would like to see a more robust acquisition section and less focus on health,” said Forman. “I don’t think the text of the plan supports the initiatives.”

“It’s a matter of being explicit about health benefits. We’re not going to fix the health challenges of the country,” said Tom Hoby, director of Jefferson County Parks and Open Space. “Our job is to let them know it’s there.”

During the discussion, committee member Rebecca Wilson pointed to the difference between Boulder and Jefferson counties’ vision of open space lands.

“We want our land to be used by the public,” she said. “Our open space is about people, and people coming onto the land.”

The master plan draft, on which Hoby has been working with staff and advisory committee members, has an extensive section that outlines goals in the coming years. Among these are acquiring 1,700 additional acres of land, building 25 miles of new trails, increasing participation in educational programs and producing five new regional Jeffco Outdoors maps.

“Acquisitions are a huge principle,” said committee member Tookie Nemchak. 

Nemchak also said the problem with pine bark beetles on Jeffco Open Space land should be addressed in the master plan.

“We have some serious maintenance issues we’ll be facing,” she added. “We do have to be serious about the maintenance we do.”

Along with plans for land acquisitions, the 2013 draft includes overall financial information about Jeffco Open Space. Funding sources for 2014 include $26 million from sales-tax revenue, which is more than 80 percent of the projected annual budget of $31.41 million.

According to a graph showing the projected budget of $31 million for the coming year, more than $10 million is dedicated to operations, $13 million to bond debt payback, $2.26 million for acquisitions, and $4.4 million for capital projects.

Other goals in the draft are creating a Share and Care program to promote individual and group stewardship of public lands and refining stewardship standards. 

The draft also contains a statement describing three focused initiatives: conservation, health and stewardship.

“This document is concise; maps are clear,” said committee member John Wolforth.

“I was happy that it is readable for the general public,” said member Ken Morfit.

Because of the concerns expressed regarding the health section of the draft, the committee decided to form a subcommittee to review it with Hoby. Committee members Mike Dungan, John Litz and Wilkins volunteered to work on revisions.

“I think everybody can appreciate how difficult it would be to write this by committee,” said Hoby. “I really do believe we’re all talking about the same thing.”

“We have some disagreement, and it should be worked out,” said committee member Kevin Burke.

The process for the 2013 update to the Open Space master plan began with a series of public meetings in May. The advocacy group Jefferson County Citizens for Planned Growth with Open Space, known as PLAN Jeffco, also submitted comments on the master plan, which is updated every five years.

Jeffco Open Space today has a portfolio of parks that covers 52,000 acres and has 210 miles of trails open to the public for free. A half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1972 now generates more than $30 million annually.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.