~ by Rick Langenberg ~
In a slight blow to hikers, Nordic skiers and snow shoe junkies, the main route to the popular Crags area will shut down this winter.
Recreation buffs can still use the trails along the mountain’s northwest corner, but getting there will present some challenges. In fact, they better plan for a hefty hike, as they will be forced to trek several miles along Forest Road 383.
The decision was made recently by the U.S. Forest Service. Officials from the agency have cited the state of the deteriorating gravel road, which is extremely bumpy and dangerous, as a prime reason for the closure. Forest Service representatives say many motorists were getting stuck and stranded along this road, making it difficult for other people to get in and out.
Plus, as an added benefit, Forest Service representatives contend that the closure will help preserve the snow better. It also could make the Forest Service road into more of a ski trail.
The Crags, located just outside of Divide, is considered one of the prime spots in the county for Nordic activities due to its usual abundance of snow and location on the shady side of Pikes Peak. It also serves as the starting point for the most direct route to the Devils Playground and summit of Pikes Peak. At the same time, the Crags ranks as a prime spot, where many tourists and get lost. Search and Rescue units from Teller and El Paso counties often are called out to rescue stranded and lost hikers in this area.
For hikers and skies that still plan on huffing and puffing it into the Crags area, they could face a journey of at least two miles to access this recreation hub. A gate will come down just past the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp’s grounds, located just off Hwy. 67. A small area near the gate will accommodate approximately eight to 12 vehicles.
Officials are unsure if this parking area is big enough to satisfy the needs of all recreation-goers during the winter, but have cited visitor safety as their prime concern.
No date has been set for the closure, according to Forest Service spokesman Evan Burks. Officials expect the closure to occur as soon as the snow packs the road.
Although this news will be greeted with some disappointment among hearty recreation buffs, skiers and locals, it’s not overly surprising.
The Crags area has encountered a spree of problems in the last several years. The area was confronted with a tree-infested beetle invasion, resulting in the death and removal of hundreds of trees. This led to a temporary closure for the last two years. The agency also banned the use of tents along the Forest Service road. The bulk of the massive tree-removal project has been completed.
In fact, Burks maintains that the agency is now merely in the process of cutting small collections of trees as they die and picking up slash.
Forest Service officials say the road will reopen again in the springs, once the snow melts. During the peak season, the Crags campground offers 17 camp sites.