Columbine Park improvements slated for September finish
The $216,000 project, scheduled for completion in September, is part of a master plan created during former Colorado Northwestern Community College president John Boyd’s tenure. Discussions between the college, the Columbine Park board, and county commissioners centered around the future of CNCC’s equine studies and management program and rodeo team and the desire to return the park to a top-level facility.
“The park always was for the community,” board president Crystal Ducey said. “We used to have horse races and other events there, and that’s kind of died off. That’s the goal of the board now, to bring those events back.”
Last winter, members of the volunteer board and college representatives approached commissioners about turning part of the master plan into a reality. They proposed a new horse barn to supplement the 47-stable barn that currently exists, along with an announcer’s booth to replace a crow’s nest that is “open air, shall we say,” said Columbine Park facilities manager and CNCC head rodeo coach Jed Moore. A sound system was included in the request since the park had been borrowing CNCC’s system for some time.
“The board and the college were able to show the commissioners what our anticipated need was going to be and what the potential income was for the county,” Moore said. “The response was, ‘Yes, this is an absolute need for the community.’”
The existing barn currently boards around 15 horses, Moore said. But later this month, when rodeo and equine students arrive for the fall semester, that number will jump to around 60 horses. The rodeo team alone has grown from eight students in 2011-2012 to 22 athletes slated to arrive this year.
“I think it speaks volumes about what CNCC as a college has to offer and what great support this new program has received both from the community and the school administration,” Moore said.
More events have come with increased park use. In addition to community members, equine students and rodeo athletes using the facilities for recreation and practice, the park has hosted several National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) barrel races. Sept. 1 will mark the Third Annual Rock-N-Bulls and Barrels event as part of Septemberfest celebrations. The First Annual CNCC Spring College Rodeo, with more than 200 contestants from 10 colleges in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), will happen on April 4-5, 2013. And Moore is talking with the Black Canyon Racing Association about the possibility of horse races returning to the park.
“We just want to see the park used,” Ducey said. “It’s there, it’s a nice facility, we can make it a better facility. But we have to have usage of it to continue to justify projects, to keep working through the master plan.”
Improvements already made to the park include new fencing, storage units for community users, a wash rack near the stalls, and new bleacher seats in the grandstands.
Ducey said that the master plan eventually calls for more bathrooms near the stalls and, someday, a park equipped with a heated arena.
Earlier this year, it was questionable whether plans for the barn and announcer’s booth would move forward when the project budget fell short of actual costs. The growth in CNCC’s horse-related programs and athletics was a deciding factor in making the improvements now.
“We talked about putting it off another year,” County Commissioner Ken Parsons said. “But we got the (CNCC) President (Russell George) to come down, and he emphasized how important it was to the college. So we agreed to go ahead and do it this year.”
The county will use contingency funds to make up the gap between the budgeted amount and the actual cost of improvements.
“Having worked at the college, I know how it important it is to support the programs,” Parsons said. “To start a program and not have the facilities to support it would be disastrous.”
Moore expressed gratitude for the commissioners’ decision.
“I don’t think any of us anticipated the cost that this would entail,” Moore said. “But Rio Blanco County and the commissioners really stepped up, especially down here at the west end of the county, for the good of the community and these programs. It was a great step for the future of Columbine Park.”