Uh-oh, Wilderness

The rising popularity of a spot of natural beauty southwest of the city of Golden has prompted a plan that strikes some Jefferson County residents as decidedly unnatural: paving a short stretch of Colorow Road that leads to the Lookout Mountain Nature Center.

County officials insist they are paving with good intentions, because the center is expanding and expects thousands more visitors. But wildlife activists and many residents are hotly disputing the county's right to use Jefferson County Open Space funds to do the paving.

"Using money to enable more people to drive fast through a wilderness area doesn't seem in line with the idea behind Open Space," says Dr. Laura Klein, one of the community members fighting the paving. Klein says that in addition to endangering wildlife, the use of Open Space funds to pave a county road would set a bad precedent.

County officials say the decision's already been made. And they say it's a good one.

"Oh, come on, any paving is damaging to the wildlife," says Commissioner Betty Miller. "But, you know, we have the nature center up there and the Boettcher mansion, and there will be a bigger center, and there's already a road through there. I don't know that paving the road will do more damage than now."

Miller says the paving of the seven-tenths of a mile is necessary because of "dust and safety problems, and because the rebuilding and reopening of the new nature center there will [lead to] more problems."

Klein and others in a group called Friends of Colorow Hill argue that the whole paving project is simply improper. "I've been told by the county attorney," Klein says, "that Open Space money has never been used to pave a county road."

But Frank Hutfless of the County Attorney's office says he amended his answers to Klein after doing some research. "I was telling her we don't use it generally for county roads," he says, "but if it involves access to open space, then it's allowable."

Indeed, the project manager for Jefferson County Open Space, B.J. Emerson, says a county policy adopted in 1987 specifically allows the use of Open Space monies for roads that provide access to open space. "The first one we did was the Robert F. Clement Park," Emerson says. "Part of Bowles Avenue was paved by Open Space money."

Klein remains adamant. "In addition to violating the spirit of the Open Space law," she says, "they're violating the Central Mountains Community Plan, in which it's even more clear that the purpose of Open Space is to preserve land in its natural state, restrict access, especially to motorized vehicles, protect wildlife and develop trails--not roads."

That plan allows for a mix of paved and unpaved trails--but not for "motorized uses"--in more developed public open space. But Hutfless notes that the plan is only advisory in nature.

At least a few residents support the paving because of unexpected problems with dust from increased traffic. That doesn't exactly help the cause of opponents, who have just about run out of options.

"We've been up there five years, and one of the things we've liked is it's still rural," says Mike Ammon, who lives on one of Colorow Road's major turns. "It didn't get as much traffic, but now the expansion is adding to it, and the paving is going to make it worse." Ammon says he's voiced his concerns to the county commissioners, with no success. "They do a lot of things arbitrarily," he adds. "You never know why they do it or what the reasoning is--until they're done."

Ammon suggests that if the paving has to be done, perhaps the county could make Colorow Road a dead end. But there has been no talk of such an option, and county officials plan to move forward shortly. According to County Manager Dora Harrison, it will cost between $45,000 and $50,000 to pave the short stretch of road, with work scheduled to take place next month.

"Jeffco will go ahead and pay for it out of our road and bridge funds," she says. "Once the center opens, we'll do a traffic study and find out its actual impact on traffic and apportion Jeffco's contribution." County officials will make sure, Harrison adds, that the spending of Open Space money is legal. "We will not do anything inappropriate.

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Michelle Johnston