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Gold Camp or bust

Forest Service expects to reopen road to motor vehicles


A scenic turn on Gold Camp Road.
  • A scenic turn on Gold Camp Road.

Gold Camp Road, a one-lane mountain thoroughfare that provides a shortcut between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek, should be reopened for the first time in 16 years, the U.S. Forest Service has concluded.

The nonprofit Trails and Open Space Coalition of the Pikes Peak Region -- which has argued for more than a decade that the road that provides spectacular vistas should remain closed -- was skeptical of the plan.

However, Dan Cleveland, executive director of the coalition, said this week his organization could potentially support the Forest Service's newly unveiled plan. "My preliminary thought is that I would have preferred they would have decided to keep it closed," he said.

The Forest Service's latest proposal includes promising elements, including a call for up to 20 miles of new trails, Cleveland noted.

This week's announcement is the latest in a long battle over the future of the historical eight-and-a-half-mile stretch of mountainous dirt road. A century ago, Gold Camp Road was a scenic rail line that helped feed tourism and the region's gold-mining economy. In the 1920s, it was a toll road, and later, a two-way seasonal road.

Motor-vehicle traffic has been barred since 1988, when a tunnel along the road partially collapsed. Since then, the stretch has become a popular trail for hikers, bird-watchers, various cyclists and horseback riders.

Frank Landis, a manager with Pike National Forest, said that pro- and anti-motor vehicle comments have been split "about 50-50" between those who want to see the road open and those who want it kept closed.

Leading up to this week's announcement, the Forest Service considered seven alternatives for the road -- everything from doing nothing to reopening the road. In addition, the agency completed a draft environmental impact statement that states the tunnel should be reconstructed and the road improved to accommodate one-way, southbound traffic.

"We didn't see significant environmental impacts," Landis said. "It's more about safety concerns -- managing recreation."

It will take $710,000 to rebuild the tunnel while maintaining its "historic character" and another $600,000 to make the road safe for vehicles to traverse, Landis said.

Business and city leaders in Cripple Creek have generally been supportive of reopening the road to vehicles.

However, Joleen Thompson, a founding member of Champions of Gold Camp Trail, which has long opposed opening the road, was critical of the Forest Service methodology for its environmental analysis.

"They should go back to the drawing board," she said. "If they are basing their decision on what half the people think, they are excluding the other half."

The Forest Service is now awaiting the conclusion of a 60-day public comment session before making a final decision in June.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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