By Lane Roberts
One might think Castle Pines North (CPN) residents are not passionate about the nature trails in and around the community - - but think again.
When news quickly spread that the Highlands Ranch Community Association (HRCA) was denying access to a new trailhead to open space near CPN, dozens upon dozens of e-mails began pouring in to the CPN Master Association.
The problem began in late August when CPN residents walking on Wildcat Mountain trail were told to leave by HRCA volunteers. Various residents have also been stopped on the trail and asked to show proof of Highlands Ranch residency by way of an official resident ID card.
The Wildcat Mountain trail entrance, located just north of Daniel’s Gate on Monarch Boulevard, is owned by the HRCA. Without an invitation from a dues-paying member of the HRCA, the trail is off limits to CPN residents.
Once the e-mails began flowing in, the CPN Master Association quickly began to investigate the situation. “We immediately called the Metro District and the County,” said Master Association President Maureen Shul. “We were very concerned about this issue and wanted to find out why our residents were being denied access to a trail system in Douglas County.”
The majority of trails around CPN are owned by Douglas County or the Metro District. Trails are built and maintained using property taxes and are therefore considered “public trails.” The HRCA, the homeowners’ association for Highlands Ranch, owns the 8,200 acres donated by Shea Homes and built the new trailhead for $86,000.
Meanwhile, Douglas County is working on a new two-and-a-half mile trail from CPN’s Coyote Ridge Park that will intersect with the Wildcat Mountain Trail, and continue to Rocky Heights Middle School. (See New Trail Access to CPN article above.)
Ron Benson, Douglas County’s director of parks and trails, originally expected the two trails to complement each other. According to Benson, the 25-year-old agreement with the County and HRCA gives residents “preferred” use of the land, and the HRCA interprets that to mean “exclusive” use. Attorneys for Douglas County continue to research the situation. As of press time, no resolution had been achieved.
Residents in this community do not plan to take the news lightly. More than 1,500 have visited a blog created by CPN resident Ben Lockett (www.cotrailmix.blogspot.com). Channel 7 News and The Denver Post have also covered the trail issue after calls from Lockett.
In September, Lockett attended the County Commissioner meeting and spoke on behalf of concerned residents in the community. “This trail is five tenths of a mile from the edge of the nearest home in Castle Pines North and 1.5 miles from the edge of the nearest house in Highlands Ranch,” Lockett said during the meeting. “I believe that trails, like nature, are a common good and should be available to all. This policy seems to be against the Colorado way of life - the life we all live here for.” Lockett asked the Commissioners to help CPN residents find a compromise.
In a recent letter to Lockett, Wendy Manitta Holmes, APR, public affairs director for Douglas County wrote: “The Board of Douglas County Commissioners are well aware of the issue as well as the widespread community concern over the HRCA decision regarding the use of Wildcat Mountain Trail. The Commissioners have requested a meeting with the Board of HRCA to fully explore with them all sides of the matter.” Holmes also asked Lockett to, “use his well-visited website to keep others in the community informed.” Prior to press time, the Commissioners met with the HRCA Board to begin discussions regarding the trail situation.
“This issue effects us now and in the future,” said Lockett. “Highlands Ranch intends to transform a further 8,000 acres of open space into private trails and nature reserves. We must come together as concerned residents to let all involved know that we think this policy is unacceptable for Douglas County and Colorado.”
Metro District Manager James McGrady, Parks and Open Space Manager Charlie Fagan, and Master Association President Maureen Shul will also continue to work with HRCA and Douglas County to see if a trail access compromise can be reached. Until then, it is illegal for anyone in CPN to utilize this “private property.”
“The first thing most people want to do when they feel passionately about the unparalleled beauty of open space is to share it with others,” said Shul. “That is why this situation is particularly disappointing to so many. We are good neighbors to Highlands Ranch, and we hope they will join us in a compromise.”
Watch for updates regarding this issue in community e-mail alerts and at www.cpnhoa.org.