The pursuit of the missing Ring the Peak trail route in southern Teller has hit pay dirt with the recent landing of a $100,000 planning grant.
The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant will go to the city of Colorado Springs and the Trails and Open Space Coalition (TOSC). Both entities are trying to finalize missing segments of the route that loops around Pikes Peak, and that has received national and international recognition. The multi-use trail surrounds Pikes Peak and encompasses a 70-mile-plus area, crossing federal, state, county, city and private lands.
The route, part of a long-term trails vision in the region for several decades, has been a big hit with hikers, cyclists, tourists and recreation buffs, as well as government leaders in El Paso County and Colorado Springs. In fact, the project has been heavily endorsed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has referred to the finished trail as an “international destination.”
The planning grant award isn’t unexpected, as city leaders of Cripple Creek and Victor supported the trail coalition’s grant request last fall.
But even with the announcement of the planning money, the trail process has to overcome some significant hurdles in southern Teller, with conflicting opinions regarding where hikers should be allowed to trek, when crossing the Ring the Peak loop inside and near the Cripple Creek/Victor district. That’s where the planning grant could help.
The grant for the Ring the Peak Trail is part of GOCO’s new Connect Initiative trail planning program, which provides funding for trail projects for design, engineering, and master planning, according to a press release by GOCO.
The grant program was “created to help municipalities and their partners navigate the often complicated planning process for trails, from regional networks to first-ever master plans in communities new to trail building,” according to GOCO officials. They believe the program will help trail projects become shovel ready for future construction grants also offered through Connect.
The GOCO funding will hire a planning consultant to help the trails and open space coalition navigate the environmental and trail alignment obstacles the group has faced in southern Teller. More importantly, it will move the project forward and facilitate the completion of the final 8 to 12-mile gap on the southwest portion of the trail that impacts the Cripple Creek/Victor district.
TOSC and the city of Colorado Springs hope to finish the trail plan by the end of 2017. Ring the Peak is one of the governor’s top priority trail projects. This grant money will also help assure that the vital interests of stakeholders, including Cripple Creek and Victor, are protected.
Cripple Creek and Victor representatives are expected to monitor this process closely, before signing off on a final route.
Trail Disputes Still Persist
Local leaders and trail coalition representatives are at odds regarding where the route should be located in southern Teller.
“We support the trail in concept,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois, who stressed that local leaders have no problems with the vision of the Ring the Peak project, in a previous interview.
He stated that where the route would be located, outside Cripple Creek, has been an area of much debate. More importantly, the city doesn’t want to endanger their reservoirs in Gillette, its prime source of water. ”Without those reservoirs, Cripple Creek doesn’t exist,” said DuBois, in a previous article in The Mountain Jackpot.
City officials also are concerned about an increased danger of wildfire, based on one of the earlier Ring the Peak trail proposals. In addition, DuBois said leaders would like to see the route occur in an area that would bring Ring the Peak users into the communities of Cripple Creek and Victor. City officials in Victor have echoed similar sentiments. They are worried about impacts to Victor’s Bison Reservoir.
Trail Coalition leaders, though, haven’t been thrilled over the proposals suggested by Cripple Creek and Victor officials, calling for a loop much closer to the two towns and away from the back side of Pikes Peak.
But that said, DuBois has maintained that discussions with the trail coalition representatives have been quite positive. Representatives from both sides have sought a final agreement or compromise, and have endorsed the planning grant.
During a meeting last fall, Cripple Creek leaders heavily supported the grant request.
Cripple Creek Mayor Bruce Brown made it clear that Cripple Creek wants to be a major player in the final trail decision. “The city recognizes that such a planning effort is intended to bring to light the many interrelated pieces of the puzzle, when considering the development of a trail in remote and biologically diverse and sensitive areas,” stated Brown in a letter of support.
“The city does not hold that public trails must or will be established in the gap areas, but rather, it is the expectation for the city that the planning efforts will result in recommendation for whether the trails should or should not be established, and if so, where. The city expresses its willingness to participate in the process, and further, it is expected that the city will have an equal seat at the table throughout the planning and decision-making process.”
Even with the planning grant, the Ring the Peak segment in southern Teller won’t occur anytime soon. Besides resolving differences with Cripple Creek and Victor, the coalition must grapple with U.S. Forest Service regulations.
However, pressure is building to complete the final planning for the project, since 90 percent of the trail has already been completed, or is expected to get underway shortly. According to sources, if the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor opt to play hardball with the trail coalition, then those actions could endanger their prospects of receiving further state grants.
Local leaders say they don’t want to get tagged with a reputation as being anti-outdoor advocates or as the final holdouts for the Ring the Peak trail project.
Other Ring the Peak Segments Moving Ahead
Major progress has already occurred in resolving another significant missing gap area, in the lower Ute Pass region. Last October, an incomplete section of the Ute Pass Regional Trail in the Cascade area received a huge boost with a $680,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternative Program.
That money will fund design, permitting, environmental review and legal rights for a section of the trail that will extend from the 3-mile Ute Indian trail in Manitou Spring to a section in Cascade. In addition, a one-mile link will be constructed between the Ute Pass Elementary School and the Winnemucca Road in Cascade.
Funding for the actual trail construction for the new section will come from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
With these efforts in the lower Ute Pass, officials are confident about closing a 5-mile gap between Manitou Springs and Chipita Park that many outdoor experts thought couldn’t be solved due to private property rights.
As a result, the planning radar for the Ring the Peak route will now be directed towards the Cripple Creek/Victor district.
Besides grant money for the trail project, GOCO has recently announced several grant funds to El Paso County, including a $75,000 habitat restoration for greenback cutthroat trout on Bear Creek and $45,000 in Youth Corps funding for Black Forest trails. Also, the city of Manitou Springs was awarded a $30,000 Youth Corps grant for improvements to the Intemann Trail.
GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties.