Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

MINUTES

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 , 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.,

Bison Visitor Center , 1800 SCR 31, Loveland, CO

Text Box: The mission of the Larimer County Parks and Open Lands Department is to establish, protect, and manage significant regional parks and open lands, providing quality outdoor recreational opportunities and stewardship of natural resource values.  We are committed to fostering a sense of community and appreciation for the natural and agricultural heritage of Larimer County for present and future generations.

Present:

Parks Advisory Board Members:

Linda Knowlton, Chair                                                                                  Frank Gillespie

Barry Lewis, Vice Chair                                                                                 Tom Miller

Frank Cada                                                                                                     

Dave Coulson                                                                                                 

Mark DeGregorio

Russell Fruits                                                                                                   

Sue Sparling – OLAB representative

 

Staff                                                                                     

Gary Buffington, Natural Resources Director

Mark Caughlan, Resource Manager

Chris Fleming, Resource Manager

Debra Wykoff, Business Operations Manager

Lori Smith, Sr. Accountant

 

Absent: 

Chad LaChance

Forrest Orswell

 

 

 

The May 12, 2009, meeting of the Parks Advisory Board was called to order by Chair Linda Knowlton, at 5:40 p.m.  The minutes of the April 14, 2009, meeting were approved.

 

PUBLIC COMMENT: Items not on the agenda - NONE

 

GENERAL INFORMATION: 

  • At the conclusion of a second public hearing on Monday, May 11, the County Commissioners adopted the recommendation of staff and the Parks Advisory Board on the Hayden Subdivision properties in the Big Thompson Canyon.
  • The Grand Opening of the Red Mountain Open Space will be on June 6 and 7, in conjunction with the City of Ft. Collins.   All of June, there will be events at Red Mountain each weekend, coordinating with events leading up to it at the Ft. Collins museum, and culminating with a full moon hike on June 6.  The opening ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 7.
  • Open Lands Manager, K-Lynn Cameron, has announced her intention to retire in mid-June, following the grand opening of Red Mountain Open Space.  K-Lynn has been with Larimer County for 26 years, and built the Open Lands Program from the ground up, as the first and only manager of the program.  The department will be recognizing and celebrating the many accomplishments of Larimer County’s Open Lands Program, and K-Lynn’s leadership of it, over the next month.  The position of Open Lands Manager will remain vacant until at least September, because the cost of pay-outs to K-Lynn will use available budget until that time.  Then the options will be evaluated, and discussed with both Boards before a decision is made.
  • Education Specialist, Rob Novak, was selected as the Volunteer Manager of the Year by DOVIA for his outstanding work with volunteers at Larimer County. 
  • Full funding for the County Forester and funding for Pine Beetle forest management for 2009 was approved by the County Commissioners on April 14, 2009, including funding for a new sort yard in Red Feather.
  • Commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly toured Red Mountain Open Space and the Mountains to Plains Project on April 7, 2009.  They also toured River Bluffs Open Space on May 12.
  • The Open Lands Visual Artist of the Year, Diane Findley, from Fort Collins, is a painter who is very involved with the local art community.  She will be helping out at the Red Mountain Open Space grand opening with a painting demonstration.
  • Bob Ramsay, donor of land for the Ramsay-Shockey Open Space, as well as $250,000 towards construction of the Bison Visitor Center, passed away on 3/11/2009.  He also gave $500,000 toward Ramsay-Shockey OS to purchase the land, and build trails and the trailhead.
  • The Education Program is up 200% this quarter as compared to this time last year regarding the number of programs offered, and the number of people attending!
  • The prescribed fire at Devil’s Backbone has been postponed to fall due to unfavorable weather conditions.
  • The County Special Event process is now online.
  • Staff is drafting a commercial use policy for open spaces that will be presented to OLAB for comment when completed .  There is already such a policy for park areas for such things as special events.
  • The water level is very high at Carter Lake – go see it!  For 2 weeks in August, no water will be moved due to a water quality test on Grand Lake.  So Reclamation is moving as much water as possible right now.  Now, with Carter full, there is a full canal going to Horsetooth – it won’t be full, but the water level will be good.
  • We received $600,000 in Federal stimulus funding to build the Poudre River Trail underpass at River Bluffs Open Space.  It will be built in the fall, by August or September (6 mo. requirement imposed by stimulus funding.)  Traffic will be rerouted during construction, which requires road improvements to the detour road (must be paved, widened and/or repaired.  These costs will all be covered by Federal stimulus funds or GOCO grant funds.  CDOT will pay for paving, but not the widening.  GOCO will pay for the widening.  Larimer County Road & Bridge will finish the east bound road, with 6 ft. shoulders, as an alternate route for the bike trail in case they are unable to negotiate trail easements with property owners through there.  Resource Specialist, Jeffrey Boring, is handling this project for the department.
  • The Public Works Division Communications Team has developed standardized annual report formats for all Public Works Division departments, which will be presented to the Department Head meeting in May.  The next project will be development of thematically harmonious website home pages for all departments.
  • The permit design for 2010 will incorporate a graphic of Kruger Rock.

PRESENTATION:  

Parks Fund Budget Projections 2008-2013 (See handouts.)

Debra Wykoff, Business Operations Manager, distributed and discussed several spreadsheets illustrating the urgent financial challenges facing the Parks program over the next three to five years.

 

The Natural Resources Department (DNR) is comprised of three major programs, each of which is separately funded and accounted for, as legally required:  Parks, Open Lands (open space sales tax) and Land Stewardship (Weed District, forestry, trails, and natural resource management.)

 

The Parks Fund contains three sub-funds:  Park Operations, Park Capital Improvements, and Lottery (Conservation Trust Fund, required by state statute to isolate lottery dollars from other funding sources.)

 

Lottery funding provides critical support to all major facets of the program.  Over the next five years, Park Operations will require an average annual Lottery subsidy of over $300,000 per year.  Capital Equipment acquisition and replacement, almost entirely funded by lottery, requires $73,000 - $120,000 per year on average.  And through the year 2013, repayment of an internal County loan for park improvements will pull approximately $62,000 - $436,000, per year from the Parks Fund, proportionately increasing the lottery subsidy to Park Operations.

 

The loan of $1,245,500, from the County’s Solid Waste Fund has allowed DNR to match grant funding available from GOCO and from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR / Reclamation) for Parks Master Plan top priority park improvements at the four reservoirs, and to complete all required ADA retrofits to existing facilities.  These improvements include two new shower facilities and new full-service campsites at Horsetooth Reservoir which will generate new revenues estimated at $50,000 year.  The new Carter Lake Marina as well as four other future Horsetooth projects, including two swim beaches, have or will also benefit from Reclamation and/or GOCO funding.  For 2009, Reclamation has authorized an additional $400,000 in ADA matching funds for projects at Carter and Pinewood.

 

In less than five years, thanks to its funding partners, Larimer County will complete almost 100% of the Priority 1 projects identified in the new Parks Master Plan and Resource Management Plan, both adopted in 2007.  This represents a remarkable achievement! 

 

However, the outlook for Park Operations is far more challenging.  Unlike most park and recreation agencies nationwide, which are largely or wholly subsided from tax revenues, Larimer County’s Parks Program receives less than 10% of its annual budget from the County General Fund.  Those funds (approximately $280,000 annually) are allocated to park areas and programs which lack another source of funding, or which generate insufficient revenue to cover operating expenses.  Examples in the 2009 budget include the Big Thompson Canyon properties and roadside parks, Horsetooth Mountain, Hermit Park, forest management and weed control.

 

The Parks Fund is 90% self-funded from user fees, other park generated revenues, grants and Lottery.  DNR must absorb 100% of annual salary and benefit increases, capital equipment costs, facility construction and operating overhead – unlike General Fund departments which, lacking opportunity for independent revenue generation, are wholly funded by General Fund tax revenues.  Personnel costs have historically risen 6% per year on average, due primarily to merit or market increases and to the dramatic escalation of benefit costs.  Operating costs have held steady or even been reduced to partially offset the impact of personnel increases; but utility, fuel and other market increases pushed up O&M costs by 8% last year alone. 

 

It is impossible to stay ahead of these relentless cost increases through park user fee increases.  New sources of revenue, capable of generating significant revenue which exceeds the additional operating cost to provide new services, are rare.  This is the ongoing challenge facing the department:  Strict cost containment and/or increased revenue generation every year.  At current levels, Park Operations will require an annual Lottery subsidy of $400-$500,000, beginning in 2011, in order to maintain a sufficient fund balance to meet expenses on a monthly basis.

 

In closing, however, Deb issued her standard “Pink Cloud Caveat”:  Good things happen, too!  For most of the past 20 years, long range projections have indicated that Parks Program finances faced an inevitable downward spiral.  But, in fact, over the past decade, DNR has enjoyed consistent annual surpluses, as a result of serendipitous events which were unforeseeable and could not credibly have been included in financial projections.

 

DNR is primarily indebted to the Bureau of Reclamation, which has repeatedly supplied major grant funding:  Approximately $2 million during the 3-year Safety of Dams project (which virtually shut down Horsetooth Reservoir), followed by another $2.75 million in Title 28 and ADA funding, plus additional funding for Homeland Security measures imposed after 9/11.  Vic Grizzle, our contact here in the Eastern Colorado Area office at Flatiron Reservoir, has been a steadfast friend to this department, and deserves our gratitude for his spectacular success in procuring funding on our behalf.

 

These grant funds (both BOR and GOCO) require a 50/50 match from Larimer County.  We have been able to match those dollars, thanks to the Colorado Lottery; and to the resourceful stewardship of DNR past and present directors in conserving Lottery funding for a future match when funding became available; and to Larimer County Solid Waste Fund’s cooperation, which enabled Gary to take advantage of one-time, windfall funding.  

 

Board comments:

§   Russ Fruits:  Has there been any discussion of an external trust to bolster funding?

§   Barry Lewis:  How stable is lottery funding for the future?  The lottery is the “plug” that makes Park Operations work.

§   Linda Knowlton:  How stable is the General Fund allocation?

§   Mark DeGregorio:  Will lottery go away?  The percentages on the open space tax are set by the initiative.  If we change that to 50% operations, it will be much harder to sell to the public.  The public wants to fund acquisition of new open space, not operational expenses.  Timing is everything – not crowding the ballot. 

§   Tom Miller:  Polls have consistently shown that the public wants parks and open spaces. 

§   Frank Cada:  Would Reclamation help fund operations and maintenance? 

§   Mark DeGregorio:  What about a different fee structure for non-residents?  What is County philosophy on that?
  


Staff response:

§   Gary:  The take-home message from this presentation is that finding other sources of funding is imperative.  This is food for thought for the future re partnerships, sales tax future, use of sales tax allocations, fee increases, etc.   Even with the challenges facing us, we are in better shape than Colorado State parks – they are closing parks and laying off staff this year.

§   Gary:  The Bureau of Reclamation historically does not provide funding for operations.  Differential fees for County versus non-county residents may be acceptable on County-owned property like Hermit Park; but on Federal property, there is more pressure to allow equal access to all, regardless of residency.  However, we do have higher annual permit fees for non-residents.

§   Chris Fleming:  The logistics of differential fees are difficult for field staff to manage for day permits because of the impracticality of checking residency on every visitor entering the park.

 

ACTION ITEM: 

Estes Valley Campgrounds – Management proposal

Gary Buffington observed that this subject has been discussed at prior meetings, the Board has toured the area; and revenue and budget projections have been sent out to the Board for review.  Now staff is asking for a green light to go forward on a management contract with Estes Valley Recreation and Park District (EVRPD.)

 

Board comment :

§   Russ Fruits:  What kind of action is Summit County taking on beetle kill pine?  If we assume responsibility and then lose 90% of the trees, that will have a negative impact on tourism and on our business.

§   Frank Gillespie:  What happens if the revenues or visitation significantly decline? 

§   Russ:  The current level of service being provided appears to be very low.  So even if we operate on a shoe string, it will be an improvement.

§   Tom Miller:  A 40% drop in vacations is predicted this year due to the economic slump.  That would have a serious impact on these campgrounds, which attract primarily tourists visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.

§   Mark de Gregorio:  Rock Mountain National Park visitation is down 6% so far this year.  We may see a one-year bump in Hermit Park, because an area of the National Park will be closed.  It will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove all the diseased trees.

§   Tom:  Previously, we’ve managed recreation not otherwise available.  But now we’re moving into the private sector – taking over a concession license that would normally go to a private concessionaire.

§   Linda Knowlton:  The company managing those campgrounds now is not a Colorado company, and the current level of service has apparently been acceptable to this point.  This suggests that the potential negative impacts may be less of an issue than anticipated.

§   Tom:  We must be aware of increasing expectations when government takes it over – we will be expected to provide higher quality services than the private concessionaire has been doing.  This is a problem.

§   Mark:  It’s going to take a lot of money to open the door on these, and major capital improvements may be required by Larimer County Planning.  Where will EVRPD come up with $3 million to bring these facilities up to code?

§   Russ:  We – the County – will be held to a higher standard.  We should not put our name on the facilities in the current condition.

§   Tom:  There are water quality problems, which may require a whole new well.  We need to be clear on the requirements and our obligations.  If we can’t open and operate without bringing the facilities, including utilities, up to code, we will be in a difficult position, whether we own the facilities or not.

§   Barry:  Who’s going to pay the costs involved in bringing these facilities up to standard?  We need to know.

§   Linda:  The estimated budget shows $50,000 in lottery funds going to Estes campgrounds for start-up.  What if start-up costs are much higher, as happened at Hermit Park?

§   Frank Gillespie:  Estes Park is a good place to invest – it will continue to grow.  After looking at what is up there, it has great potential for the future, and would be a good investment for the County to make.

 

Staff response:

§   Gary Buffington:  We won’t use department funding for these campgrounds.  If visitation or revenues decline, we make less money – we still get the same percent of the total.  The profit that goes to a private concessionaire does not go back into improvements.  But our revenues generated there will.

§   Mark Caughlan:  We should request the utility inspections to verify the condition of existing facilities.

§   Chris Fleming:  Our position is that EVRPD must pay the costs of meeting ADA standards. 

§   Gary:  Reclamation has committed $240,000 for ADA improvements.  These funds will require a 50/50 match.  We’re in the position of a property manager – we don’t own it.

§   Gary:  He is asking for authorization to talk to County planning, and have the necessary inspections done, etc., to get the information to answer the Board’s questions, and to come back with answers and a draft contract.  EVRPD has already made a decision not to put the concession out to bid again.  We don’t yet know whether start-up costs will be $50,000 or $500,000 – if the latter, we can’t afford that.

 

Frank Gillespie made, and Barry Lewis seconded, a motion that the Board support Gary’s request to continue investigation, to better understand the feasibility of entering into a contract with EVRPD for the management of the two campgrounds.  Following discussion, below, the motion carried by unanimous voice vote.

 

 
 


     

 

 

 

 

Discussion:

§   Dave Coulson:  Does that give Gary what he needs to proceed?

§   Frank Cada:  If it doesn’t look good, we don’t have to go forward.

§   Mark deGregorio:  He will need much more information before he can support it.

 

STANDING AGENDA ITEMS:

Park District updates and Parks Master Plan Implementation Progress report – Chris Fleming and Mark Caughlan, Resource Managers

§  Inlet Bay shower house will open this weekend.  South Bay is also completed.  Mark would be happy to give a tour, if the Board is interested.  The end result is very nice.  We’ve had a lot of compliments.

§  Construction on the new campsites at South Bay started Monday.  Earthwork came in at $120,000.  These should be done by mid-July. 

§  An EDAW hydrologist will be working with us on logistics of the swim beach area on the east side of Horsetooth.  The challenge is keeping the sand there.  When it comes to a lakefront beach area, it’s all about the sand.  Without good sand, the area will not succeed, no matter how nice the facilities are. We’re looking at creative engineering options. 

§  Adding a few campsites here and there is fine, but won’t fix the revenue issue.  We need to provide unique recreation opportunities, which will bring in significant additional visitation and revenue.

§  Commissioner Steve Johnson:  Is there a place to buy a permit there?  (No, but there would be if the swim beach is developed.)

§  Health Department is requiring a metered waste water outflow at the shower facilities – that data can be used to plan the shower facility at Eagle.  If we are under 2000 gal. per day, we won’t be required to put in such a large sewage treatment facility.

§  We will not be getting water for 2 weeks in July, when water is going out the fastest.  This could be a problem in the future – we need to cultivate an effective working relationship with Northern Water managers so that recreation needs are also taken into account when scheduling water deliveries.

§  Six weekends of rain or snow has significantly affected revenue.

§  Dramatic increases in weekday visitation are happening at Hermit Park (HP) – local residents are discovering it.  Group events continue to pour in.  Hikes are very popular, with waiting lists.

§  HP campground 2 improvements are going well.

§  The move to the Marina offices by Visitor Center staff is complete.  The new offices are a big improvement over the poorly equipped and crowded office at the Blue Mountain maintenance building.

§  Mussel inspection staffing is an ongoing challenge.

§  Camp hosts are all in place, and will be trained on Thursday.  About 60% are returning.

 

DIRECTOR’S REPORT

Big Thompson Land Sales – Gary Buffington, Director

§   The Commissioners held a second public hearing last night.  Nobody commented – most people had commented the previous week.  The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the recommendation.

§   Commissioner Steve Johnson:  Some people had comments afterward, very complimentary to the department and board, and how it was handled.  There was applause after the vote.  The residents in that neighborhood have a very positive impression of County government, as a result of this process and the genuine compromise.  The Board of Commissioners was very pleased by that. 

 

DISCUSSION ITEMS:

Schedule for future PAB meetings - cost saving option – Gary Buffington

  • Gary reviewed budget cuts last year, this year, and next year.  As another cost saving measure, Gary opened for discussion the option of reducing the cost of supporting the Parks Advisory Board by changing to bi-monthly meetings.  The total cost to the department of supporting the Board is roughly $69,000 per year, including staff time.

 

Board comment:

  • Tom Miller:  Cutting the meal would be fine.  Meeting every 2 months might be a good idea.
  • Barry Lewis:  Reduce by 2 meetings a year?  April, August, December?  Cut food with the Eagles game (appreciation event)?
  • Russ Fruits:  If there is something that needs to be done, the two month schedule could be a problem.  Cut meals on field trips.
  • Linda Knowlton:  The field trips are invaluable and should not be cut. 
  • Mark deGregorio:  Hard to schedule dates of no meeting, because we don’t know when important action items will arise.
  • Gary :  Do business by email?
  • Tom:  What does the Board of Commissioners want or expect the PAB to do?
  • Commissioner Steve Johnson:  We’re getting a good deal from the Board, and we’re happy to feed you.  If the PAB continues to bring decisions like the Hayden properties, we’ll happily pay for more meals!
  • Linda:  Suggests looking at reducing meetings to 8 a year.

 

AGREED: 

  • Plan next meeting for July, unless something comes up requiring action in June.
  • Gary encouraged Board members to tour the new restrooms.

 

Annual park permits for PAB members – Linda Knowlton, Chair

  • There was a suggestion that PAB members receive a regular annual permit.
  • We aren’t consistent in reporting our hours to the volunteer database.
  • Barry Lewis:  He buys an annual permit through the Friends to support them.
  • Russ Fruits:  The point was to facilitate interaction with visitors on weekend.
  • Dave Coulson:  We’d lose $65 from him, since he buys a permit every year.
  • Linda Knowlton:  What if we get a full pass, but other Boards like OLAB do not get that perk?
  • Mark deGregorio:  It is germaine to this Board to visit the parks.  At RMNP, volunteers to get a full price permit.
  • Dave:  It is worthwhile for Board members to be in the parks.  This is the best argument.  He is a heavier user of the parks than most.
  • Tom:  Volunteers don’t do it for the trinkets.

 

Staff response:

  • Deb Wykoff:  How do we justify this in terms of our other volunteers who may put in many more hours than Board members?
  • Chris Fleming:  She would love to see the Board members come up on weekends to see the challenges they face.

 

AGREED: 

  • Send annual permits to all members. 

 

The meeting was adjourned at 8:15 p.m.

 

FUTURE AGENDA ITEMS:

  • Concession Manual – Final Approval
  • June meeting cancelled unless need arises.

 

Next regular meeting: July 14, 2009, Boyd Lake Room, Larimer County Courthouse Office Building

 

 

Respectfully submitted,

Debra Wykoff

 

APPROVED:

 

 

______________________________________

Linda Knowlton, Chair

 

Background Image: Rocky Mountain National Park by Sue Burke. All rights reserved.