In 2012, a study revealed that the last wild refuge of the threatened greenback cutthroat trout (pictured) is in the Bear Creek watershed ("Fifty shades of green," cover story, Oct. 3, 2012). Since then, changes have come fast.
In late 2012, the U.S. Forest Service closed the area to motorized vehicles — including dirt bikes, whose riders have long used and helped maintain the trail system — in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity. Last fall, the Forest Service closed the trails in the watershed to all users due to damage from flooding. They remain closed, to the disappointment of mountain bikers and hikers.
Now, many outdoor enthusiasts are concerned the trails will never reopen. Following an environmental assessment of the watershed, the Forest Service is considering closing and rerouting many of the trails in the area known as Jones Park.
The agency is accepting public comments through Thursday, March 27, on three options for the area, including its own proposal, which would result in major changes to the trail system to protect the greenback. (Check fs.usda.gov/psicc for more information.) Its proposed action would close and restore areas of trail thought to negatively impact the fish, as well as improve the stream bed, which is shallow and prone to erosion.
Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director Susan Davies says she supports the proposal, as it's likely the best compromise to protect the greenback while keeping many trails at least partially open. But she worries that popular routes through Jones Park, including those that lead to historic ruins, could be blocked.
The Forest Service is not the only landowner in the area — in fact, it only owns a middle section. The lower section is owned by the city, and the upper part is owned by Colorado Springs Utilities. Davies says that city enterprise will hold many of the cards when it comes to how open Jones Park will be to the public.
Spokesperson Patrice Lehermeier says Utilities is committed to managing its land in conjunction with the Forest Service, including rerouting trails. But there is no viable utilities-related use for the land, she adds, so Utilities is looking at options for selling it or swapping it for other land.