(COLORADO SPRINGS) — For more than 25 years, the TOPS program has been protecting and preserving trails, open spaces, and parks in Colorado Springs. On the April ballot, voters will decide if the program should be extended for another 20 years.
“TOPS has preserved thousands of acres of property, built hundreds of miles of trails, and preserved also parks, built parks,” Trails and Open Space Coalition, Susan Davies, said. “So, you know, people move out here for this. They move to be closer to the open space parks and trails.”
TOPS funding has helped build or improve 67 parks, preserved 7,500 acres of Open Space, and added 53 miles of trail.
“The TOPS program has been in existence for more than 25 years, it collects one cent on every $10, so it’s a very, you know, very small sales tax,” TOPS working committee chairperson, Bob Falcone, said. “And what it is used for is primarily to acquire open space and trails for recreational use in the city or for preservation, recreational use in and around Colorado Springs and that’s the basic nutshell of it.”
The TOPS tax collects one cent for every ten dollars spent in the city and goes towards preserving nature throughout the city.
“When you shop in Colorado Springs, one penny goes to the TOPS tax,” Davies said. “And to put that into perspective. They figured it out that it’s about $14 per person per year, that’s nothing. It’s three cups of coffee, $14 per person per year is all that TOPS tax cost and the reason it’s so little is because the tourists help pay for it.”
The TOPS program has preserved Stratton, Blodgett, and Red Rock Canyon Open Spaces. A detailed list of what TOPS has achieved can be found online.
“Imagine Colorado Springs without Red Rock Open Space, without Stratton Open Space, without Cheyenne Mountain State Park, all of those are the result of the TOPS tax,” Davies said.
Kaylee Parson is the organizer of Wild Mama’s, a hiking group filled with moms and their children that explore the outdoors together.
“It is so much fun because it’s like a small group,” Parson said. “We can get to know each other really well, but all the kids play with each other and we get to go outside together.”
When looking out on Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Parson expressed her gratitude towards the TOPS program.
“One of the biggest things that they’ve done that I love is they protected Red Rocks Open Space… from being bought and turned into a convention center about 20 years ago,” Parson said. “And so, to imagine this not being here anymore is crazy to me but I just love that the TOPS program allowed that to happen.”
As the population in Colorado Springs grows, this means more foot traffic on trails, parks, and open spaces.
“Well, with more people visiting, more people coming into the city, you know, more people moving here, obviously the need for open spaces and trails and parks goes up and so it’s important for us to keep this tax in place,” Falcone said.
Information on how other cities have adopted the TOPS program can be found online.
In 2021, voters were against the proposal to double the TOPS tax, the new measure will not raise the tax and set funds aside for new open space land.
“We added some language in this ballot that 75% of the open space category must be set aside for acquisition,” Falcone said. “That was because some people were concerned that maybe money would be going to other things, but we’ve been spending more than that anyway in the last number of years. So it’s a guarantee that there was always going to be money for acquisition.”
Parson is hopeful the beauty of the Pikes Peak region will be protected and preserved so her family can experience the outdoors.
“I think without all of the open spaces that we have, I probably wouldn’t love living here as much,” Parson said. “This is where I want to raise my kids and have my family come and visit. So, it’s what makes Colorado Springs really special to me.”
To better understand the process of TOPS tax, Falcone recommended attending a park advisory board meeting or TOPS working committee meeting.
“They’re open to the public,” Falcone said. “We’re very open about what we do there and ask questions or listen to the discussion that’s held when we’re talking about budgeting or talking about acquisition of land or anything like that.”