By Rick Langenberg:
While Manitou Springs may have their share of (Grateful Dead) “Deadheads” in tribute to the town’s former hippie legacy, Green Mountain Falls has its “Trailheads” with GMF’s growing status as a hiking mecca.
Last week, local outdoor enthusiasts came out in force and delivered a strong message to the GMF elected leaders: Open up Dewey Mountain to the public as trails are a great asset to our community.
With a few exceptions, Ute Pass residents spoke favorably of a bid to provide a legal way for residents and visitors to trek up and down the 140-plus-acre area located directly north of GMF, which provides one of the most unobstructed views of the Ute Pass and surrounding mountains. And even some neighboring residents to Dewey Mountain, while raising concerns over parking, conceded that Green Mountain Falls is a community of hikers and trail buffs.
Dewey Mountain is known as one of the scenic side routes to the North Catamount Reservoir and is a prime hiking destination in the winter because it is a south-sloping spot and receives plenty of sunshine. According to GMF trails committee leaders, it has been a landmark area since the town’s birth in the 19th century, and has abounded as a popular area for equestrian riders, scouting groups and hikers. A number of routes exist from town residential areas to Dewey Mountain, but they require trespassing through private property.
But those days could be screeching to a halt.
If a single access route is established, this could open the door for one prime legal link to Dewey Mountain. “This is a magnificent gift to our town,” said Dick Bratton, chairman of the Green Mountain Falls Trails Committee, during a trustees hearing last week. With the recent purchase of this property and adjoining acres by the Historic Green Fountain Falls Foundation, Bratton stated that this prime, scenic backdrop would be saved from the prospects of residential development and that locals would have a great hiking and outdoors opportunity at their doorstep. As a result, he said the trails committee has identified four possible Dewey Mountain access routes at the north and western sections of town, along Myrtle, Ora and Catamount streets. But only one access route would be used, according to the committee’s proposal.
The elected trustees reacted favorably to this idea of opening up Dewey Mountain, but contended that more details need to be worked out regarding access and hearing from the new property owner, Christian Keesee, the chairman of the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation, who also is the founder of the Green Box Arts Festival.
Another meeting has been set for July 1 to permit Keessee or a designated representative from the Green Mountain Falls Foundation to convey their views on the Dewey Mountain trails situation. “We are a hiking family. We love our trails, said GMF Mayor Lorrie Worthey, in endorsing the plan to provide access to Dewey Mountain. At the same time, the mayor conceded town officials haven’t quite reached the point of unlocking the local gates to this area.
The trustees unanimously agreed that the trails are a great asset to the town, and access should be provided to the 8,500-foot Dewey Mountain area, which also offers routes to such popular hiking jewels as the “Garden of Eden,” “Sheep Herder’s Ridge” and of course the North Catamount Reservoir. “I would like to hear from the property owner,” said Trustee Chris Quinn. “The access is the main point. We are getting closer,, but we are not there yet.”
These comments followed another spirited hearing during which the pro-Dewey Mountain access folks outnumbered the foes in numbers and in comments.
Trail advocates described the Dewey Mountain link as a great opportunity for the town, with a route that gives hikers a different experience than the other eight or so major trails. “The trail is really different than any other,” said resident Sharon McCormick, who compared the experience to climbing a small mountain and getting a unique vantage point.
Bratton said locals have been hiking and riding to the top of Dewey Mountain through seven different social routes in town for years, but conceded that none of them are legal. He said a single access route could alleviate many problems. Advocates of the Dewey Mountain access plan noted that GMF is a community of “trailheads.” But a few residents posed definite questions about the proposed access and parking. “This is great opportunity for people to be injured,” said resident Mac Pitrone, who lives near one of the proposed access points. He said hikers would face a surmountable trek through narrow residential streets from the public parking area near the swimming pool. He proposed an alternative access off a spur of the Catamount Trail.
In addition, Pitrone questioned if the town really needs more trails. “You need to maintain the trails you have now,” said the former trustee. Resident David Brittian also wondered about fire dangers and the realistic prospects of setting up drop-off area. “It’s going to be a real mess up there,” said the resident.
The most formidable opposition came from resident Kimberly Hargrave, who has heavily criticized the Dewey Mountain access plans. She said the toll of trying to maintain another major trail area needs to be evaluated. She indicated that maintaining a trail system of this caliber comes with “inherent problems,” such as fire dangers, vandalism, loose animals, erosion and litter. Hargrave even questioned if the property owners want to turn this land into a hiking mecca, or just keep it as open space. “It could be the trail to nowhere,” added Hargrave, who took several shots at the trails committee. Like Brittian, she mentioned fire safety as a huge concern. “We are under a red flag warning,” said the resident. “We are still reeling from the Waldo Canyon fire.”
In response to Hargrave, several speakers said the far majority of trail users are extremely responsible people and that they could help curtail future fire problems. Most residents also reiterated the fact that GMF is now known as a trail-friendly area, a characteristic that they believe would help boost summer visitation.
Trustee Dave Cook even quipped that visitors have parked in the driveway of his residence in search of trails in the area. The trustees agreed that a definite access plan would have to be developed, once a definite site is identified. They also favor possibly setting up a volunteer group to help deal with enforcement issues along local trails.