Some say the "holy grail" of the Pikes Peak region's trail system is the Ring the Peak Trail. Circumnavigating Pikes Peak, the yet to be completed, 60-plus-mile path promises to be a signature attraction for cyclists, hikers, equestrians and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Getting its start in the late 1990s with the completion of the Pikes Peak Master Plan, the RTP is actually a series of trails joined together to create a giant loop around America's Mountain.
Many gaps that existed between trail segments have been closed since the master plan took effect. Land was purchased, easements gained, new trails built, pre-existing trails repaired or rerouted as work continues to reach the goal of making the RTP a reality.
Today, two gaps remain in the loop: a 1-mile segment along U.S. Highway 24 between Manitou Springs and Cascade, and an 8-mile gap in Teller County between Pancake Rocks and Mason Reservoir, on the south slope of Pikes Peak. Which isn't to say you can't currently circumnavigate Pikes Peak, but you'll have to do some of it on roads. That's usually OK, but not very desirable for many cyclists or hikers, and only a temporary solution to the missing bits in the trails.
In 2016, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper identified 16 major gaps in trails around Colorado — "16 in 2016" — and sought to start a movement to close them, including those on the Ring the Peak Trail. El Paso County Parks has a plan in place for the one along Highway 24, but the larger segment in the southwest part of the RTP remains in limbo.
With federal, local government and privately owned parcels criss-crossing the gap, along with sensitive wildlife breeding grounds, finding a way through the gap will be a difficult undertaking. To keep Hickenlooper's plan, now called "Colorado's 16," moving along, the Trails and Open Space Coalition, Friends of the Peak, El Paso County and Colorado Springs applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant to research how to bridge the trail.
Early in 2017, GOCO awarded a $100,000 grant to hire consultants to do the laborious job of researching and developing a plan. According to Susan Davies, Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director, once a consulting firm is chosen, they're expected to spend about a year developing the plan and turning it over to the stakeholders, who will then attempt to implement it.
The year spent developing the plan will include public meetings, identifying the various property owners and identifying a route for this section of the trail. According to Davies, it will likely be several years before the trail finds completion, depending on the effort needed to acquire land or easements, and to actually carve the trail. Both Davies and Friends of the Peak President Steve Bremner say that they won't know what it will cost to complete the trail until the consultants have completed their work.
The RTP offers more than just a ring around Pikes Peak — it also serves as access to the mountain itself. Barr Trail, Devil's Playground Trail and the now-in-development Missing Link Trail being built by cycling group Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates provide access, either directly or via connecting trails, to Pikes Peak. Medicine Wheel President Cory Sutela anticipates completion of the Missing Link, connecting Barr Trail to Jones Park, will be sometime this summer.
One gap (almost) down, more to go.