In May of this year, the Air Force Academy shut down access to seven miles of the New Santa Fe Trail that traverses the far eastern edge of the school. Citing nothing more than the Pentagon’s standard position of 'national security concerns,' AFA officials closed the trail, keeping El Paso County residents — who paid to have the trail built and maintained — out.
The closure of the trail by the AFA has a wide range of effects. Not only have recreational users been kept from using the trail, but so have cyclists who use the trail to commute from Palmer Lake or Monument to Colorado Springs and back. The popular ADT marathon, that has traditionally used the trail, was forced to create a new route this year because the AFA refused to open the trail for the race. To me, a runner wearing not much more than a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes isn't a real threat to national security.
Add to that the heavy rains and the wettest month on record that caused extensive damage to the trail. While the County Parks Department has been able to access the trail to evaluate the damage, the intransigence of AFA brass has kept repair work from being completed. Presumably, this has allowed the damage to worsen, increasing the cost of repairs estimated to be at least $500,000.
Even though the AFA has claimed that the trail is closed due to security concerns, it continues to allow visitors and their cars onto the grounds, typically with not much more than the most cursory inspection at the gates. And lets not forget the thousands of people, including civilians, granted access to AFA football games. Meanwhile runners, cyclists and hikers aren’t allowed on a trail that, for the most part, is far removed from any facility on the AFA.
The county parks department and Air Force Academy officials have been in discussions regarding opening the trail, and now the public will have a chance to provide some input. The county is inviting locals to a public meeting to discuss the closures and the future of the trail on September 28th. Find more information and a press release from the El Paso County Parks Department here
It’s time for the AFA leadership to come to their senses and end this ridiculous trail closure.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.