No more rockets at Bear Creek Lake Park next year

Lakewood code and other factors will halt CRASH activities at the park

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/17/20

Members of the Colorado Rocketry Association of Space Hobbyists (CRASH) grew up as children finding rocketry as an exciting activity and a way to get outside, says Matt Morgan, CRASH's vice …

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No more rockets at Bear Creek Lake Park next year

Lakewood code and other factors will halt CRASH activities at the park

Posted

Members of the Colorado Rocketry Association of Space Hobbyists (CRASH) grew up as children finding rocketry as an exciting activity and a way to get outside, says Matt Morgan, CRASH's vice president. And for over 30 years, Bear Creek Lake Park has been the place for the group to shoot off rockets. There's open space, no powerlines, or major streets near the area of the park where the group launches, foot and bike traffic is low near the launch area and the elevation is up a little higher, Morgan says.

“It's kind of a perfect site for us, and it's centrally located for a lot of people to get through,” said Morgan.

But by the end of the year, CRASH, which serves rocketry hobbyists, Boy Scouts, schools and more for free, will have to find a different site to launch rockets, as Lakewood will no longer permit the activity at Bear Creek Lake Park. The city points to city code and other factors. Launches will continue since Lakewood gave the group an extension to use the park this year.

MORE: See a CRASH launch day in photos

CRASH aborted

Bear Creek Reservoir is operated by Lakewood through a lease with the US Army Corps of Engineers Tri-Lakes Projects, which also includes Cherry Creek and Chatfield reservoirs. At the beginning of the 1980s, Lakewood began assuming financial and management responsibilities for the park. Amber Wesner, public engagement and operations manager for Lakewood's Community Resources Department, said in an email that managing a park the size of Bear Creek Lake Park is a resource stretch. She said the entire state is being impacted by population growth and higher densities — leading to a negative impact on local and state outdoor resources.

“Over the course of the last five years, it has become abundantly clear to the Community Resources Department that Bear Creek Lake Park as well as other open space areas are being `loved to death,'” Wesner wrote. That overuse has seen Bear Creek Lake Park be impacted by increased shared use trail conflicts, impacts to park natural resources, an increase in emergencies in the park, traffic issues and traffic violations.

MORE: Bear Creek Lake Park home to Rattler amateur MTB races

To combat overuse issues, Lakewood implemented a new park permitting process that requires groups of residents to apply for a permit and pay an application fee. The move allows staff to thoroughly review each permit request, Wesner said. Other than shelter rentals, groups are not allowed on weekends or the busy season at the park, impacting longtime park groups like CRASH who use the park the first Sunday and third Saturday of each month. Wesner says Lakewood worked with each group impacted by the permitting process to communicate the change in advance to provide accommodations where feasible.

“Although this operation shift has been difficult for many of our patrons, we've successfully navigated through these changes with all but the CRASH club. Additionally, the club was informed of this change in early 2018,” Wesner wrote.

Wesner said at some point, Lakewood made an exception for CRASH to shoot off rockets at Bear Creek Lake Park — an activity that isn't allowed in city code. Since then, the city has been told by the US Army Corps of Engineers that rocket launching isn't permitted at the park. 

Morgan pointed to a section of city code that says Lakewood won’t prohibit the sale or use of model or educational rockets. He added that the US Army Corps of Engineers told CRASH that it can continue to launch rockets on their leased lands if Lakewood files a permit each year. CRASH has not had a response from the city regarding that conversation the group had with the US Army Corps of Engineers, according to Morgan. 
 
He doesn’t dispute that Lakewood can manage Bear Creek Lake Park as it sees fit. But Morgan believes there are exceptions to how the city can manage it. His argument is that city code requires the city manager to issue administrative rules that are not in conflict with laws of the state or other city ordinances. 
 
“You have only to visit any hobby store selling model rockets to have visible proof they are not illegal in Lakewood,” said Morgan.

Aside from city code, the visibility of rocket launching causes others to assume launching rockets is allowed in Lakewood parks, Wesner said. Other reasons for rocket launching not being allowed at the park include 911 calls due to the belief that there are explosions or fireworks happening, noise complaints and a fire that occurred several years ago that required restoration work by CRASH.

This year and last, Lakewood has worked with CRASH to find a new location for the group to launch rockets. The city has contacted over 20 other agencies, Wesner said, but only Jeffco Public Schools said it would be comfortable with the activity. The city and school district staff met with CRASH in January to propose a plot of land near D'Evelyn Junior/Senior High School be used for rocket launching, but CRASH dismissed the idea. Morgan said that after examining the proposed location, the group feared a gust of wind could carry a rocket into power lines or into a nearby street.

“Rocket launching provides a wonderful learning opportunity for our youth; however, we have reached a point in time when it can no longer be conducted within the constraints of the city and Bear Creek Lake Park,” Wesner wrote.

Learning through rocketry

Each year, CRASH, which includes some engineers, firemen and geologists, serves "several hundred, if not thousands" of parents and individuals, Morgan said, like Denver Christian School sixth grader Voss Veum. He joined the school's rocket explorer class and recently got to go launch a rocket he made at Bear Creek Lake Park with CRASH. Veum has an interest in rockets and chemistry and enjoys reading about space.

“It was a lot of fun. You work on a rocket for a long time, and then you finally get to launch it,” said Veum. “(CRASH) goes over the safety rules and makes sure no one is around. It was very educational.”

Morgan said CRASH hopes to set children up for potential employment and has a few residents who were part of its activities go on to work for Lockheed Martin, an aerospace company.

CRASH doesn't launch rockets during fire restrictions and if winds are above 15 mph. When the group comes to Bear Creek Lake Park, it brings fire extinguishers. Over the last 20 years, CRASH has had one incident that has involved a fire department, according to Morgan.

“That safety record is pretty good. We launch thousands of rockets every year, and we just have a lot of conscious people that if something does go wrong, we're there to take care of it and an incident,” said Morgan.

Toward the end of a Feb. 10 Lakewood City Council meeting, Lakewood City Councilmember Charley Able requested a resolution to allow CRASH to continue launching rockets at Bear Creek Lake Park. No council action has been taken yet on Able's request.

“It's a very important piece of education for these folks, and (Bear Creek Lake Park) is the only place they can launch in the Denver metro area. If we take that way, they have no place to demonstrate what they've learned,” Able said.

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