COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- You may have traveled past an 18-acre plot of land on South Academy Boulevard between Airport Road and Pikes Peak Avenue hundreds of times and never knew the property was formerly a bird sanctuary.
A local family donated the property to the Aiken Audubon Society in 1982, and the land became the Redwing Sanctuary.
"It was very different than what it looks like now," said Risë Foster-Bruder, a former society president. "There were trails through here. It was an oasis.
During migration, there could have been any number of migrating birds."
She said there also was was an observation tower built, but vandalism and safety concerns led to its removal.
The society donated the property to the city in 2010 because it lacked direct access and became too expensive for the volunteer group to maintain.
"The city wanted us to build a sidewalk along Academy and we couldn't afford to do it," Foster-Bruder said.
Lately, the area has fallen on hard times -- overgrown with invasive trees and populated with illegal homeless camps that have led to brush fires and trash dumping.
But all of that is changing, as city officials have started a major project to clean up and improve the area.
Many of the undesirable trees have been cut down, and much of the trash has been removed. The area is now more open than it has been in many years.
The project has two goals: To use Spring Creek flowing through the area to filter stormwater and reduce flooding risk; and to turn the area into a nice open space for outdoor recreation.
"The first phase, the cleanup phase, is almost finished," said Richard Mulledy, the city's stormwater manager. "The second phase is to actually come back in and restore the property. Bring it back to its natural condition with wetlands, bring back the habitat. We started that process about three years ago."
Mulledy said the city is currently in talks with the Army Corps of Engineers to join forces on the project, and if that happens the Corps would pay two-thirds of the cost, while the city would pay a third.
"It's going to be a two-year project that'll cost between $3 million and $5 million," he said. "It will take a while, but there's a lot to do there."
Many surrounding business owners are glad to hear about the project because they have long complained about homeless camps, litter and property damage.
"Well, that'd be tremendous because we've certainly had a lot of them over the years -- the break-ins and all kinds of invasions," said Rev. William Ephriam, whose New Vision Cristian Center is adjacent to the property. "Sometimes, we try to help the people. But sometimes, you can't help them."