When General William Palmer was planning Colorado Springs, he envisioned a city that offered residents a safe, prosperous, and aesthetic place to live and recreate.
Community trails, where people could ride and hike and enjoy the scenery and wildlife of the area was an important part of Palmer’s plan. Today we have scores of trails crisscrossing the Front Range. Horseback riders, bicyclists, trail runners, ATV riders, and hikers don’t have to go far to enjoy the area’s trails. Just this last July, Green Mountain Falls dedicated the improved and LEGAL “Dewey Trail” to its series of trails. The Dewey Trail was finalized by cooperative action taken by the town, local hiking groups, and private property owners.
With the giant mass of granite we call Pikes Peak staring down on its low lying neighbors, Cripple Creek/Victor, Woodland Park, Divide, and Colorado Springs, one would think a trail that traverses the entire circumference of the peak would be a no brainer. But trail leaders didn’t take into considerations the property ownership realities and water resources in the southern part of Teller, in what is becoming a major challenge for “Ring the Peak” advocates.
In 1999 a group comprised of recreation advocacy groups, utilities, local government, the U.S. Forest Service, and private property owners convened to form the Pikes Peak multi-use plan. This plan is where the Ring the Peak Trail was born. The trail has been an ongoing project since then and has weathered untold obstacles in its development and journey toward completion. Comprised of a series of segments, the trails cross federal, state, county, city, and sometimes private lands. The total length of the trail system is approximately 70 miles and is 90 percent complete.
The Ring the Peak Trail got a big boost when Gov. Hickenlooper directed the Department of Natural Resources to identify 16 priority trail gaps in Colorado for 2016 and Ring the Peak Trail made the list. This designation will provide added muscle for the fight to resolve the last issues facing the trail’s completion and also provide funding to back it up when advocates apply for grants.
While the governor’s designation does not come with state money, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) is investing $30 million in trails over the next four years as part of its Connect Initiative that will improve walkable and bike-friendly paths and trails for projects across the state. GOCO has dedicated the first $10 million of funding for the governor’s Connect Colorado 2016 projects.
But big hurdles remain in completing the route.
The last two gaps to be resolved in order to complete the trail are located on the west and south slopes of the peak. The gaps include a 5 mile section on Ute Pass Regional Trail and 8 miles on the peak’s southwest side. Recently the Ute Pass Regional Trail section of the route was pushed closer to completion when the El Paso County commissioners approved a master plan to close the trail’s gap. All that the plan lacked was funding.
The second gap is proving to be a much more difficult and complex hurdle to overcome. A part of the proposed trail skirts along Victor’s Bison Reservoir and through a Cripple Creek municipal watershed with two reservoirs, and over federal and private lands.
The city of Cripple Creek has concerns that the trail passes near the two reservoirs that supply Cripple Creek with its drinking water. City Administrator Ray DuBois said, “Without those reservoirs Cripple Creek doesn’t exist. We don’t oppose the trail itself. The city is concerned that there is an increased danger of wildfire.”
DuBois and Ring the Peak Trail advocates, Friends of the Peak and Trails and Open Space Coalition met on March 21 to discuss alternative routes for the trail. No solutions were arrived at during that meeting, but since then, DuBois said the city has come up with a couple of alternate routes that were recently presented to the trail groups.
During a recent council meeting, DuBois referred to one of the alternative routes as “Hugging the Peak” due to its location and slight diversion from what the trail advocates initially proposed.
The Cripple Creek reservoirs are not open to the public. However, the Timberline Fishing Club holds a lease to the lakes for its members’ enjoyment. The fishing club currently has 450 members, who pay an annual fee of $250 each for the right to fish the reservoirs. The club pays the city of Cripple Creek $13,000 for a renewable 10 year lease. The club stocks the lakes with trout and has a caretaker on site that polices the area.
Debra Downs, Victor City Administrator, also expressed concerns about the trail coming close to its drinking water sources. She said, “We are absolutely against the proposed route as it stands now. We don’t want a lot of people endangering our water resources with trash, and a potential fire hazard.”
After the March 21 meeting between the cities of Victor, Cripple Creek, Friends of the Peak, and the Trails and Open Space Coalition, the two cities met again and came up with alternative routes that better addressed their concerns. Debra Downs said, “We would rather the route go below our water resources nearer to Gillette Flats. Going above the reservoirs presents a problem with big horn sheep lambing areas during the laming season.”
As with the Cripple Creek reservoirs, Victor’s Bison reservoirs are leased to a private fishing club that does have access to the lakes. The Gold Camp Fishing Club leases the fishing rights and rights to two cabins on the reservoir property for $1 a year.
You must be a Victor property owner, live within the city limits, and pay a city water bill to become a member. Members pay a fee of $125 per year membership fee. There are currently 350 members of the club.
Paul Mead with Friends of the Peak attended the March meeting with Victor and Cripple Creek officials. He said, “The meeting was mostly good. I understand and respect their concerns about their water resources.”
Regarding the cities alternative route suggestions, Mead said, “Our problem with going below the reservoirs, in the Gillette Flats area, is there are a lot of land owners and other private interests down there. Each time you add another entity to have to negotiate with, it adds more and more layers of issues that need to be addressed.”
The idea of going above the reservoirs is likely a deal breaker too. The Big Horn Sheep lambing areas are jealously guarded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Mead said, “Traditionally seasonal closures have not worked. They haven’t officially said no to that option, but informally hint that it is not going to happen.”
Mead tried to convey the idea that the trail would provide an economic boost to Cripple Creek and Victor, but DuBois and other city leaders disagree. DeBois said, “We don’t think we would see much traffic from the trail with it being so far from Cripple Creek. If it were closer to town there might be more of an economic impact, but not with where it is now proposed. Similar sentiments are echoed by elected leaders. Like DuBois, they question the amount of Ring the Peak hikers who would visit Cripple Creek.
Ironically, the sections in limbo are arguably, the most spectacular of the entire trail. The south side of Pikes Peak, along the proposed route, feature alpine and sub alpine zones. From Pancake Rocks to Mason Reservoir, trail users would be mesmerized by shimmering lakes, sparkling streams, and abundant wildlife including Big Horn Sheep.
Mason Reservoir was opened to the public in 2014 for hiking and fishing as a part of the South Slope Recreation Area, a remote 10,000-acre chain of lakes on Colorado Springs Utilities land that has been closed to the public for more than a century.