Recreation Boom Brewing

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by Rick Langenberg

 

The lower Ute Pass and Teller County area may soon bustle with more trails, legal equestrian routes, camp facilities and recreational amenities. However, these plans are getting a cold response by neighboring residents, who are concerned about detrimental impacts to the area and people loving the high country to death.

Last week, the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees held a lively debate on the merits of additional trail plans and access possibilities to complement the recent 140-acre purchase of Dewey Mountain and adjoining areas for open space by the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation, headed by Chris Keesee.

Keesee, the driving force behind the Green Box Arts Festival, has played a major role in purchasing GMF properties for civic and artistic ventures, such as last summer’s highly successful Cloud City attraction.

The recent open space purchase of Dewey Mountain , dubbed as a scenic backdrop for Green Mountain Falls , encompasses a vast area north of town near the border of El Paso and Teller counties. It provides key equestrian and hiking access to the Catamount Reservoirs. The land was purchased from Ray Burgess, who has cited a desire to preserve this area and protect it from future development.

Dick Bratton, who heads the GMF Trails Committee, cited the pact as a win/win for the town and local citizens. “This is looking really good for the town. We can finally have legal access,” said the committee chairman, at last week’s trustees meeting. He noted that Dewey Mountain has been a historic landmark area since the town’s birth in the late 19th century. More specifically, he said it was commonly used by scouts for campfires and for various outdoor outings, and was a popular spot for equestrian rides, especially when the town had several horse stables.

Bratton indicated that the land purchase won’t really create many new trails, but it will open the door for equestrian buffs and hikers to access the nearly 8,500-foot Dewey Mountain and a scenic area without trespassing on private property. It also exists on a south-sloping area, meaning that this spot would be ideal for residents during the winter. Currently, many locals and horseback riders use this area, but do so illegally.

He said the trails committee wants to do an access trail off Catamount Street , in the west part of town, to provide a direct link to this prime open space area.

However, this idea was met by stern opposition from two local residents. “This project should be discarded,” said Kimberly Hargrave of Green Mountain Falls , who lives near the proposed access route. She cited serious concerns for the whole community and questioned why the town needs another major trail area, when it already features an active network of 16 designated trails. “The mountains do not always attract nature lovers,” said the resident, who fears their neighborhood getting trashed by irresponsible hikers and motorists. She sees the trails plan and open space expansion as easily opening the door for more vandalism, erosion and flooding. “This puts our town under a threat,” added Hargrave.

But both Bratton and Burgess disagreed with these claims and contended that trail-building actually helps prevent fires and creates a safer environment. The GMF leaders, though, refused to get involved in a trails debate and set a public hearing for May 20. In the meantime, they want to do a site visit In a later interview, Bratton expressed optimism that most of the residents’ concerns could be addressed. He also stressed that this provides access for a social trail area that already exists. “We want to provide access to Dewey Mountain without trespassing on private property,” said Bratton. In addition, he said this would open the door for a plethora of additional recreational opportunities for area residents.

Eventually, he said the trails group wants to work with Keesee in reworking some of the deteriorating trails located on Dewey Mountain .

Quaker Ridge Expansion

Green Mountain Falls isn’t the only community that is increasing its recreational options.

Last week, the Teller County commissioners promptly approved expansion plans for the 600-acre Quaker Ridge Camp, located north of Woodland Park . This camp currently features a 5,700 square-foot dining hall, six detached guest dormitories, a chapel building, two small primitive cabins, 5,200 square-feet of staff housing, two shop buildings, an outdoor swimming pool and a slew of additional recreational amenities, including an 18-hole disc course, a putt-putt golf course and a rifle range. It currently can accommodate about 300 people inside its various facilities.

In essence, the commission’s approval allows the camp to make improvements to its facilities, bringing them into compliance with county standards, and to create a “modest” number of new facilities. Its overall occupancy would increase, but not substantially, according to county officials. Quaker Ridge would receive a special permit to operate partially as a resort designation under the plan.

The commissioners had no problem with the special use request, since the facility, which caters to many religious groups, Christian ministries and military retreats, has existed in Teller since 1948. The camp, though, has been dealing with outdated facilities and has operated as a non-conforming use in an agricultural-zoned area. In order to do improvements, the camp had to obtain a land use permit from the county.

But a few Teller residents have raised a flag over the project, and question how many people the camp can hold. And like the trail bid in Green Mountain Falls , some are wondering if officials are making decisions that will negatively impact the area. “At some point, Teller County must put limits on human occupancy of rural lands. How many people can Quaker Ridge have on their property on a given day? What is the carrying capacity of rural land in Teller County ?” questioned Steve Storrs of Divide, in a letter to the county. In addition, Storrs , as he has on previous occasions, cited problems with officials extending recreational benefits to non-profit groups that provide no tax benefits to Teller County .

Some of these same concerns were raised by resident Deni Davidson of the Broken Wheel subdivision, during last week’s hearing. The commissioners, though, quickly dismissed these claims, contending the proposal won’t create any substantial new development at Quaker Ridge. Moreover, they concluded that the new special use application easily meets the county’s development standards.