In 1997, Colorado Springs voters approved the Trails and Open Space (TOPS) tax to fund the acquisition, preservation, and development of trails, opens spaces, and parks. This 0.1% sales tax—one penny on ten dollars in purchases—provided community leaders, parks professional, recreation advocates, and landowners with the financial means to save beloved outdoor spaces. In 2003, voters extended the tax measure through 2025.
The passage of TOPS was notable as it firmly aligned with William Jackson Palmer’s vision for prioritizing parks and outdoor recreation in Colorado Springs. It was the first tax increase approved by voters in over two decades and demonstrated that specific, designated tax measures could be successful in this conservative city. It required that a citizen advisory group, the Trails and Open Space Working Committee, be appointed to make recommendations on land purchases. The measure defined a specific calculation for how financial resources could be used: 3% administration, 6% maintenance of TOPS properties, and then remaining funds designated as 20% for parks, 20% for trails, and 60% for open spaces. It’s clear that TOPS funding focused on the preservation of natural areas.
Early accomplishments included the acquisition of Stratton Open Space, a 306-acre parcel in the foothills adjacent to North Cheyenne Canon Park. In this and many cases, TOPS funds were used to leverage additional financial support from private donors and organizations such as Great Outdoors Colorado and the Trust for Public Lands. Tax funding was also soon used to improve and expand trail connectivity along corridors such as the Pikes Peak Greenway and Rock Island Trail.
Generously Submitted by Matt Mayberry, Cultural Service Manager, and CSPM Director