By Beth Dodd:
For the first time in over 100 years the public is going to be allowed to recreate on the formerly forbidden south slope of Pikes Peak. Access to the pristine area has been restricted by Colorado Springs Utilities for decades, but now the Colorado Springs Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services has been awarded $400,000 in grants from the state of Colorado to help fund the development of a new park on the south side of the peak in the Seven Lakes Area.
The new south slope park has been in the planning stages for the past two years and hoped to be ready for public use by the summer of 2014. To date, the only way to get into the area was on a limited number of guided hikes led by the Trails & Open Space Coalition. The hikes this summer were completely booked and there is already a waiting list for next summer.
The area in question, a proposed new 2,840 acre park on both sides of the Teller/El Paso county line, includes McReynolds Reservoir, Mason Reservoir and Boehmer Reservoir in the Seven Lakes area above Cheyenne Canyon and below the summit of Pikes Peak. These lakes are part of the Colorado Springs drinking water system and are maintained by Colorado Spring Utilities. The current south slope development plan will pave the way for summer seasonal day time recreation at McReynold’s Reservoir, including hiking, fishing, and non-motorized boats. A 1.2 mile hiking trail around the lake has already been constructed by volunteers from the Friends of The Peak, and a second 4.5 mile trail to nearby Mason and Boehmer Reservoirs is in progress. Other proposed development includes a twenty car parking lot, a vault toilet, and picnic shelters at McReynolds. There will be ADA access ramps to the shoreline for fishing, as well as a mile of accessible hiking trails, as much as the topography of the site will allow. There will be no potable water, electricity, or camping allowed at McReynolds, but primitive dispersed camping in the nearby Pike National Forest could possibly increase. Primitive camping sites have no systems for trash collection or human waste disposal, and campers are expected to clean up after themselves. However, the U.S. Forest Service has written a letter in support of the south slope project.
Access into the area is from the Gold Camp Road, and concerns were raised about increased traffic on the dirt road, which is one lane in places and passes through narrow historic Cripple Creek Short Line Railroad tunnels. If traffic levels exceed 99 cars per day, the road will have to be improved to accommodate the additional use, but how this would be accomplished is not clear. Other concerns include an increase in the trash in the area, as some recreationists are slobs, and garbage can create wildlife conflicts, detract from the natural beauty, and lower water quality.
Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services would pick up the tab on a seasonal park employee to help with trash removal and maintaining the vault toilet. This new position would be paid for by a $5 to $10 parking fee at the site. They also hope to have continuing support from Friends of The Peak, or to create a new volunteer group to help care for the park. Colorado Springs Utilities will continue to care for the watershed and monitor water quality.
The area straddles the Teller/El Paso County Line, so law enforcement and emergency medical situations at the new park could create dispatch confusion. Law enforcement emergencies at McReynolds and Mason Reservoirs would fall under the jurisdiction of the El Paso County Sheriff, while farther up the same hiking trail at Boehmer Reservoir the Teller County Sheriff would have jurisdiction. The new park is outside the city limits of Colorado Springs, but it seems likely that existing mutual aid agreements between the city and counties may cover the new park for police and fire services if needed. Another unaddressed issue is the 10,000 year old fens in the area. Fens are fragile wetlands similar to bogs. The trail being built to Boehmer Reservoir will cross through fens twice. A possible footbridge or boardwalk to protect this sensitive landscape is being considered.
The threatened greenback cutthroat trout, a rare species of native fish, lives in the waters on the South side of the Peak, but it is unclear whether the lakes in question have populations of the fish. However, the Boehmer-Mason Trail will be closed during the spring for lambing season for the protection of the local bighorn sheep herd. The Colorado Springs Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services received a green light from the Teller County Planning Commission at their August 14 meeting to move forward with the plans for the new south slope park.