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An Open Question

Are Boulder's Open Space Department and its director one and the same?

Secrist can hardly be unaware of his predecessor's fate. He says he's about to embark on a baseline management audit of both departments and will hire a deputy city manager to oversee all of Boulder's environmental affairs in January. He hopes to make a decision on the merger by spring.

Although many battles in the city's open-space wars seem trivial, Boulder has been shaped and defined by its love of nature and its aggressive acquisition of open space. Citizens have voted to tax themselves over and over again in order to acquire land. And town leaders and many residents readily accept the negative consequences of this hunger to control growth and preserve the environment. For example, Boulder has become an extraordinarily expensive place to live, and its nurses, teachers, bus drivers, reporters and sales clerks generally reside outside the city. Even new University of Colorado professors have trouble finding affordable homes. Traffic problems accumulate as workers stream in and out of town every day. And Boulder is rapidly forfeiting its role as an economic power in the state: Stores are losing business, and the sales-tax revenues that make up most of Boulder's budget are in danger.

Still, as the Front Range begins to look more and more like one continuous city, most Boulderites sigh in relief at their unimpeded views of the mountains and the ring of vibrant green that surrounds their city. And they applaud Crain's most recent triumph: the purchase this year of 1,500 acres in Jefferson County near the Boulder County line, where a huge development had been planned. In a recent poll commissioned by the Open Space Department, residents admitted worrying about what overcrowding could do to Boulder's precious open space.

On a recent morning, a crawdad was stranded at a bend in the Bobolink trail, left there by a torrential rain. He'd pushed his tail into the mud and was standing upright like a tiny boxer, turning this way and that, pincers waving menacingly at anyone who approached. The small, furious creature epitomized the controversy that has swirled around the city's open-space program.

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