New supervisor tackles city's open spaces

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— There are at least 25 people who would love to fill Mike Neumann's dirty shoes.

That's how many people applied to be the city's open space supervisor, a newly created position.

Neumann, who started in the position about two months ago, doesn't need much prompting to indicate just how much he likes his work.

"I've had so many people say, 'Everybody in town wants this job,'" Neumann said. "I can believe it."

The hiring of an open space supervisor was spurred in part by the city's aggressive attempts to acquire land and secure conservation easements, which has roughly quadrupled the amount of open space within the city limits in the past eight years. The city has acquired 627 acres of open space within the city limits since 1993, said Intergovernmental Services Director Linda Kakela.

The parks department had attempted to get money for an open space supervisor every year for the past five years before getting its request filled in the 2001 budget. When the city acquired the Baxter property, a 177-acre parcel adjacent to Howelsen Hill, and helped complete the Yampa Legacy Ranch Project last year, it may have made the difference in getting the City Council to accept the proposal for a new full-time position, said Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson.

City Council President Kevin Bennett, an ardent supporter of open space acquisition, said he thinks the term "open space supervisor" is a misnomer.

"'Open space' implies there's nothing going on," Bennett said. "It's quite the contrary."

For instance, the city's Legacy Ranch, beginning at the corner of County Road 131 and U.S. 40, has a number of barns and sheds that must be maintained and hay that will be sold. Neumann is currently painting a ranch house and bunkhouse at the ranch with the help of volunteers from Leadership Steamboat. He is also working to organize a fence-repairing project with the Community Agricultural Alliance that will take place June 2.

Bennett said the city has been able to acquire much of its open space without having to spend much money. Hiring someone whose No. 1 duty is to oversee those parcels made more and more sense as the city acquired more and more land, Bennett said.

Before Neumann signed on this year, the job of overseeing and maintaining parcels of open space fell to the trails division of the department, Wilson said.

Neumann has two parks and recreation workers under him, one of whom is seasonal. Each of his assistants moved over from another department this year.

Neumann's biggest challenge may be finding a middle ground among the various Yampa River users as they try to come up with the criteria for measuring the health of the river in upcoming studies. That puts him in the middle of the controversy between tubing companies and fly fishers that earlier this year resulted in the city's decision to ban commercial tubing on the upper Yampa.

Neumann said he likes projects like the river study, in which he can work closely with different user groups and try to craft a compromise.

But with community surveys taken last year showing strong support for open space acquisition, Neumann realizes his job is not often going to be so controversial.

He wants to map out a plan for each of the parcels of open space and come up with a master plan that ties them together linking, for instance, trails on Howelsen Hill with trails on the Legacy Ranch. Neumann said the public will have considerable input in drafting those plans.

Neumann came to the city from Terra Matrix, an environmental consulting firm, and has a degree in range management from the University of Wyoming.

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