Hey Neighbor!

Perched atop a brown, windswept, dusty butte just south of Denver, sits a big, big rock that, for all intents and purposes, looks like a square, sturdy castle straight from the pages of your child’s favorite fairy tale. Atop this castle sits a star, twenty feet high and twenty feet wide. During Christmas and the summer rodeo season, this star shines with all its glory lighting the way for travelers on I-25 and showing off the town’s most prominent natural feature.

It’s an impressive sight. The rock and the butte it sits on have been preserved as public open space. As such, it offers a well-maintained hiking trail to the top and protected flora and fauna which house a variety of creatures, including the Goss Hawks that nest in the crevices of the rock itself.

More important, this impressive public open space project worked to set the tone for the way the folks at Castle Rock Parks and Recreation and their patrons decided to run their parks and recreation department as their little town started to turn into a not-so-little town in the early ‘90’s.

Managing Population Growth

“We add over 3,000 residents to the community every year,” says Rob Hanna, Director of Parks, Recreation and Golf for the town, “and we’re really running to keep up.”

Hanna’s strategy for dealing with this quick growth is to require folks that are moving into the area to “buy in” to the level of parks and recreation service current resident’s already enjoy.

“We require 20 percent of every development to be dedicated as open space,” says Rob Hanna, Director of Parks, Recreation and Golf for the town. “In addition to that, we get parkland property designated for active parks at a ratio of eight acres for every one thousand residents.”

Hanna says these eight acres (split between neighborhood parks and community parks) sometimes represents 50 percent of the proposed property developed.

“That’s pretty cutting edge,” says Hanna. “In my 20 years in the industry, I’ve never seen property designations that high.”

On top of these designations, Castle Rock also charges an impact fee for parks and a separate impact fee for recreation, which they use to fund capital improvements and new parks and/or recreation facilities.

“The impact fee is a set fee that changes every year,” says Hanna. “This year, every building permit includes a $1,200 fee for parks and a $1,200 fee for recreation. At our current pace of 1,000 houses per year, that nets our department around $2.4 million for capital improvements.”

This sounds like a lot of money, but as Hanna notes, it goes fast. The rest of their funding, for what Hanna calls basic services, comes from their city’s sales tax for operations as line item in the annual budget.

Basic Services

This of course begs the question, “What do the folks in Castle Rock consider basic services?”

According to Hanna, basic service means every resident has a right to expect both active and passive recreational opportunities within a reasonable distance of their home. A reasonable distance is defined as a “safe walking distance” from the home.

In Castle Rock, this doesn’t mean there’s a park every half-mile. Instead, it means Hanna and his staff spend an inordinate amount of time looking at geography, how roads are laid out, what trails connect to it and deciding on a case-by-case basis if there is a safe way for folks in this neighborhood to access the park on foot. Do they have to cross any busy roads? Can kids make the journey without a chaperone?

If the answers are yes, the park location is approved. If no, they find a better spot.

“We get pretty deep into the development process,” says Hanna. “We’ve got 33 square miles in the town and our goal is to connect major developments, neighborhoods, and recreational opportunities with trail systems.”

Not that developers line their properties up in a nice neat row and build them one after the other so the trail system is completed in a nice orderly system.

“We typically require the developers to build these trail systems,” says Hanna, “so at any point in time we’ll have several trails that are disconnected because a development hasn’t been completed.”

Over the last 10 years, a lot of Castle Rock’s trail system has been filled in and, with build-out expected to be completed in the next 20 years (if the current pace continues) each year should bring substantial improvement to the urban network.

Basic Services – Neighborhood Park Facilities

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