Colorado Springs Utilities presented the latest Pikes Peak South Slope Plan a little over a week ago on Tuesday, April 27th. I was there along with over 60 others. There were some positive changes based on the feedback given on draft Pikes Peak South Slope Plan presented in January.
One of the changes is the decision to allow mountain bikes on proposed Boehmer/Mason Trail loop that was initially proposed to be closed to bikes. The downside is they’re proposing to increase the trail width to 4 feet to minimize conflict between mountain bikes and other trail users. 4 feet is wider than true singletrack and I doubt it’s necessary. Also trails tend to widen over time so I don’t think they need should start so wide.
Based on the feedback from the January meeting they are now proposing a trail connecting from the Lake Moraine Trail over to the Boehmer/Mason Trail area. This could be a key segment to make completion of Ring the Peak Trail a reality. It also would allow for some epic mountain bike rides connecting with the Barr Trail area. Since it wasn’t on the original plan and it’s been too snowy for them to take a good look at the area, there’s no specific trail location specified.
Although there are no specific plans for building any trail for completing Ring the Peak Trail, they didn’t seem so opposed to it. Most of the sensitive big horn sheep habitat where it makes most sense for the trail is on Forest Service land. There would also need to be a connection through Colorado Springs Utilities land. CSU said they would work with the Forest Service to see if it would be possible.
Another new proposal that I don’t like is allowing limited hunting. According to their slide on the feedback received, they got over 120 comments supporting hunting. That’s over double the number supporting the Ring the Peak Trail which had the 2nd most comments. Although a couple people brought it up at the January meeting, there didn’t seem to be much support for it. My guess is some group organized and sent in a lot of comments online. I’ve heard bullets whiz by me more than once while mountain biking so I’m not excited about hunters being in the area.
I hadn’t noticed before that dogs won’t be allowed on the Pikes Peak South Slope. Because of wildlife concerns especially with the big horn sheep, it makes sense to not allow dogs.
There weren’t a lot of comments but the most were about the trail being so wide and the area being closed in the winter. The plan is for the area to only be open from mid-May through mid-October. People, myself including, would like to be able to snowshoe and cross-country ski on the trails even if it means starting at Gold Camp Road.
So the big question that hasn’t been answered yet is how the building of the trailheads and trails and the ongoing maintenance will be funded. Colorado Springs Utilities will pay for the detailed plan to be completed. The Colorado Springs Park and Recreation department will be responsible for finding the funding for building and maintaining the trailheads and trails. The parks department has had their general fund budget slashed from close to $20 million in 2008 to about $3 million this year so that’ll be a challenge.
The number being used at the meeting was somewhere around $2 to $2.5 million for building everything in the plan. Other places I’ve seen estimates as high as $4 million. Tom, the presenter, said the about $2 million amount is based on bringing in a commercial contractor to do most of the work. Using volunteers to build trails would bring that down. However, the single biggest cost is building bridges and boardwalks over sensitive wetlands and that may be hard to reduce much with volunteers. He said that’s about $900k and I found nearly that much with a quick glance through the costs section of the plan.
At least some funding could come from the Trails and Open Space (TOPS) program. Also the project seems like a great fit for money from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) which is funded from the state lottery proceeds. Fishing is Fun Grants (CDOW), the Fish and Wildlife Resources Fund, Trail Construction Grants (Colorado State Trails Program) and Conservation Trust Fund are listed as other funding sources for construction. Most likely a fee based system will be used to provide ongoing funding.
Another part of the plan that isn’t on the Pikes Peak South Slope is the improvement of the Ute Trail. The Ute Trail runs from near the base of the Manitou Incline to Cascade. Although it isn’t currently an official trail, it is well used but has some very steep sections with erosion issues. The proposal is that El Paso Country Parks will be in charge of the improvements and manage the trail.
You can find many more details including maps, photos and charts in the 88 page plan posted online. You can find some additional information on main Watershed Access Project page including an online form to submit comments by May 18th. It also gives information on getting notified of volunteer or guided tour opportunities.