Regional Parks And Trail Projects

Working with surrounding departments provides an opportunity to connect individual trails to create a regional transit system. Photos Courtesy of Randy Burkhardt

While “building more for less” is a familiar mantra, it is now more critical than ever that parks and recreation agencies really explore and embrace how to accomplish this task. Let’s face it—just because budgets are shrinking doesn’t mean the project load has diminished, or that elected officials will stop making commitments to the public that directly affect the way we operate both with capital development and maintenance funding.

DouglasCounty in Colorado leverages capital and maintenance dollars by creating design and funding teams with the surrounding local, regional, state, and federal governmental and quasi-governmental agencies to construct and maintain major park and trail projects. These are generally large regional projects that no individual agency would have the resources to complete in a timely manner. Any agency that will participate financially or in-kind is included. While partnership groups that plan, design, construct, and maintain large regional projects are not a new concept, the actual application of forming a partnership is something that many agencies will need to explore in these challenging financial times.

Forming partnerships can be challenging, but if agencies can look past petty differences and grasp the bigger picture of providing great parks and trails for the public, the opportunities are substantial.

A Case Study

One such project is the East/West Regional Trail in DouglasCounty. This 25-mile trail will stretch across the northern tier of the county from Highlands Ranch in the west to the town of Parker in the east. When completed, it will allow users the opportunity to trek several hundred miles through local, regional, and federal trail connections.

DouglasCounty has completed approximately 18 miles of the trail system. In doing so, the county has formed connection, maintenance, and funding partnerships with the Highlands Ranch Metro Districts and the city of Lone Tree; connection partnerships with Highlands Ranch Community Association, Castle Pines North Metro District, and the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District; and an easement agreement for the trail corridor with the Highlands Ranch Community Association and the city of Lone Tree.

Another important partner for this project was the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO). The fund receives a portion of the Colorado Lottery and Powerball proceeds to benefit open space, parks, wildlife, and state parks. In 2008, GOCO awarded Douglas County a substantial grant to fund the construction of this project. This additional monetary commitment was the catalyst needed to push the project over the top and ensure that phase one could be completed.

Herding Cats

As one can see, it was critical from the start to create a great partnership with a multitude of different public and private agencies to ensure that this project met or exceeded the design expectations. To be sure that all parties stayed on task, a design consultant (the Architerra Group) was hired not only to facilitate the design discussions, but also to take all of the varied ideas and demands and put those into a biddable set of construction documents. Although somewhat challenging at the start, this public-private partnership developed into an efficient group that was able to provide a great recreational service to the public in a fairly short timeframe. If this project had been undertaken by any individual agency or as a series of small projects, the timeframe for completion would have been substantially increased.

Partnerships with multiple agencies allows the team to be better equipped to face the challenges of design, permitting, and construction in a timely, cost-effective, and efficient manner.

In 2012, using this same model, DouglasCounty began designing for the remaining 8 miles of the regional trail. This new team includes DouglasCounty, the city of Lone Tree, the town of Parker, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Coventry Development Corporation, and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. By developing strong team bonds between local public and private agencies, as well as bringing in federal and state agencies, the team is better equipped to face the challenges of design, permitting, and construction in a timely, cost-effective, and efficient manner. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2014.

The Framework Remains The Same

This mindset not only is reserved for multi-jurisdictional regional trails projects, but can also be applied to any project where multiple public or private agencies may have a role or benefit from completing a project.

DouglasCounty is creating a multi-jurisdictional team to design a 202-acre regional park. Although design on this facility is still a few years away, county officials are already cultivating and building the partnerships necessary for a successful completion.

While bringing several agencies together for a project of any size can be intimidating and even unruly at times, the benefits for the community support and project completion are far greater than the obstacles presented.

Agencies should be encouraged to explore the possibilities of creating a team for an upcoming project. Remember—with everyone doing a little, we can accomplish a great deal.

Randy Burkhardt , ASLA RLA, is the Assistant Director of Parks, Trails, and Building Grounds for Douglas County in Colorado. Reach him at rburkhar@douglas.co.us .

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The Benefits Of Successful Partnerships

  • Greater regional public buy-in with representation of multiple agencies

  • Several funding sources

  • More miles added to regional trail systems through local trail connections

  • Support of elected officials for partnerships

  • Division of the workload

  • Greater support for possible grants

Pitfalls To Avoid

  • Domination of the initial discussions by one agency

  • Agency representatives’ failure to make design intentions public

  • Exclusion of potential partners