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An aerial view of Pulpit Rock as captured during analysis for a master plan for the surrounding open space. A new vision has emerged for 600 acres surrounding the rock in Colorado Springs. Courtesy of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services 

A new blueprint aims to transform a Colorado Springs nature zone.

The Austin Bluffs Open Space master plan, approved this month by the city's parks board, also encompasses two adjacent preserves: Pulpit Rock Regional Park and University Park Open Space. The three now will be managed under one name, Austin Bluffs Open Space, covering about 600 acres.

The size is comparable to Palmer and Ute Valley parks. While those are more established hiking and biking destinations, the goal is to add Austin Bluffs to the mix.

With Pulpit Rock as its centerpiece — the craggy throne overlooking Interstate 25 and the shops of University Village Colorado — onlookers say Austin Bluffs Open Space could be a destination in its own right, with oak-covered hills, forests, meadows and Pikes Peak vistas adding to the allure.

A maze of trails has been blazed by mountain bikers and neighbors bordering the mosaic. Many won't appreciate the plan to eliminate much of the network, which officials say is harmful to the environment. The plan is for 18 miles of well-marked trail to grant the variety that enthusiasts crave.

Focus will first go to Pulpit Rock. A hiking-only, timber step-defined path to the top is planned on one side, a biking-only descent on the other, with a multi-use trail available between them. Other envisioned trails include Rim Trail, skirting the upper reaches of the open space, and Spine Trail, connecting to Palmer and Ute Valley parks.

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