The burning issue in Crystal Park is a Volunteer Fire Department created by the Homeowners Assocation board in 2007.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Crystal Park, a 2,000-acre private-membership community on the mountainside above Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs.
It’s a beautiful, remote subdivision where 220 homes are built amid thick forest, creeks and ponds.
About 70 homes are built in the lower regions of the park with 30 or so in the middle and 120 at the top — a slow, steep, six-mile drive from the gate at the bottom.
A mill levy, administered by a Metro District, pays for fire protection from Manitou Springs. The annual bill is $10,000. In addition, residents pay $125 a month in HOA dues.
But there are problems. For example, it takes 35 to 45 minutes for Manitou crews to reach the upper park. That’s a long time if you are suffering a heart attack or something is burning.
And some residents became concerned because Manitou can’t guarantee it will always respond to Crystal Park calls for help. It must serve its own residents first and foremost. If there is a conflict, or a truck is out of service, Crystal Park’s calls could go unanswered.
That’s never happened.
But it scared many in Crystal Park and inspired them to form their own Volunteer Fire Department. The Crystal Park Homeowners Association obtained a $70,000 grant to buy used trucks, tankers and other equipment and started getting trained to respond to calls for emergency medical service, perform high-angle rescues and fight fires.
In 2008, the HOA appropriated about $70,000 in HOA funds to build a fire station.
But some folks in Crystal Park were not impressed. They didn’t like the HOA spending its money on a fire station. They say the Volunteer Fire Department is unnecessary and portray it as a rogue group of residents acting without authorization from the entire community.
In fact, three opponents campaigned and won control of the HOA board last August and have attacked the previous board members involved in the fire department. Read what they have to say here.
Fire department supporters are outraged and are trying to recall the board. Read about their complaints on their blog. They allege the board held illegal secret meetings to discuss, select and negotiate the hiring of a management company and the firing of the previous park manager.
The lone upper park resident on the board, who also supports the fire department, was even excluded from the secret discussions and actions, so he resigned in protest along with another board member.
I was surprised to learn there was so much opposition to a fire department. After all, Crystal Hills is at great risk of a wildfire. I’d think everyone there would want a brush truck and trained crew handy, given what we’ve seen along the Front Range with the Hayman Fire in 2002 and many other large, deadly fires.
Even folks who own lots in Crystal Park, but don’t have homes there, would value a department that is protecting their investment. Right?
After all, how much is a charred, barren landscape worth after fire roars through? Go ask the folks in Teller County and near Deckers.
Here’s a look at the Crystal Park area from FlashEarth:
Author Ivan Brunk wrote a great little history book: Crystal Park, The Gem of Pikes Peak published by Pulpit Rock Press in 1990.
In it, Brunk pulled together old stories of Crystal Park, starting with how explorer Zebulon Pike surveying Crystal Park during his failed attempt to reach the summit of the mountain that now bears his name.
He describes how it got its name from a wealth of quartz and gemstone crystals found in the park.
The book offers great detail about efforts in 1883 to build a 30-mile narrow-gauge railroad from Manitou, around Red, Iron and Sugarloaf mountains, through Crystal Park, past Cameron’s Cone to the summit of Pikes Peak.
Money was raised. About nine miles of the route was graded. But the railroad was never built.
Instead, the graded right-of-way became the scenic Crystal Park Road which charged tourists a toll to ride touring cars for the ride past Sublime View and Inspiration Point up to Crystal Park.
By 1912, it cost $2.50 to take the ride, which included a spin on a wooden turntable where the road was too narrow for the cars to turn around.
There are great historic photos and maps in the book, as well.
One of the most interesting stories is from 1975 when a couple Texans tried to buy Crystal Park and create a private, 2,000-acre retreat for residents of the Lone Star State.
They felt mistreated in Colorado and wanted a haven for Texans. They even tried to create a Texas State Park using 40 acres which they planned to deed back to the state of Texas. Lawmakers in the Colorado House of Representatives quickly passed a bill to outlaw ownership of Colorado land by other states. By June, the project was dead.
In October 1975, the property was “dedicated to God and his loving people” as the Crystal Park Christian Community. Memberships were sold for $12,500. Owners could then build houses on lots within the park. Each lot is less than an acre.
It’s been mostly quiet in Crystal Park ever since. Until now.