Columns » Hiking Bob

Springs' natural areas are worth celebrating

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The Ring the Peak system gets closer to completion. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The Ring the Peak system gets closer to completion.
This being the second week of our annual Best Of awards we’ve elected to honor some of the best things that happened to outdoor recreation in the Colorado Springs area this past year. So, instead of having readers vote on their favorite hiking trail, running trail, cycling trail, park, etc. (which, in truth tended to elicit the same, obvious winners), I’ve instead, by all the power vested in me as “Hiking Bob” Falcone, penned the following personal account of what’s newly worth celebrating in our natural areas.

Many great things happened locally in 2017 — and many bad things didn’t happen. We didn’t have any massive fires or any floods. Ditto on blizzards and tornadoes. We didn’t even have many oppressively hot days. So, let’s take a look at what did happen in recent months:
• The Ring the Peak Trail system took a big step toward completion in 2017, with the award of a $100,000 Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant to identify the stakeholders and possible routes through the 8-mile gap that exists near Cripple Creek and Victor. The grant, awarded to the Trails and Open Space Coalition in late 2016, was used to hire NES Inc., a company that offers land planning, to manage the project. To date, TOSC and the Friends of the Peak have coordinated hikes, biking and horseback riding days to introduce people to the variety of uses on the system. According to TOSC Executive Director Susan Davies, the goal is to have this study done by late summer 2018, and then to move forward with closing the gap. The process, which will involve more fundraising, legal work and physically building the trail, is projected to span a few years.

• After being closed to protect the greenback cutthroat trout, many of the trails in the Bear Creek watershed were re-opened after repairs and rerouting were completed. Trail 667 was repaired, rerouted and re-opened (including to motorcycle use) during the summer. Bear Creek Trail 666 from lower High Drive was decommissioned near Josephine Falls. Trail 776 intersects Trail 666 just before Josephine Falls, and continues up to a saddle near the summit of Mount Buckhorn. From there, hikers and cyclists (nonmotorized users) can choose to go down Trail 776 to Gold Camp Road, near the popular Seven Bridges trail, or turn left and go past the summit of Buckhorn on Trail 667 and then to the top of High Drive — or, turn right on 667 and continue to Kineo Mountain and then to the Jones Park area.

It’s an excellent example of multiple agencies working together — including the U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County, city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several outdoor groups — toward the goals of protecting the fish, allowing recreational use and reopening trails to motorcyclists.

• Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates made significant progress on the “Missing Link” trail they started building in the fall of 2016. The trail, connecting Barr Trail to Jones Park and the Bear Creek watershed on Pikes Peak, is nearly done, according to Medicine Wheel President Cory Sutela. Twenty years in the making, the trail first needed approval from Colorado Springs Utilities, which owns the land it sits on. Corridor clearing started last fall, and resumed this past summer once the snow cleared from the peak. The 4.5-mile trail, from the Mountain View Trail near Barr Camp to the west end of Jones Park, has been cleared, and will be completed by Singletrack Trails thanks to an $80,000 Colorado State Trails grant. According to Sutela, if the weather cooperates, the trail may be completed by the end of October, although some “fine finishing” may need to be done by hand, most likely in the spring of 2018.
Carry an updated map to link up with the rerouted Trail 667 in the Bear Creek area. - COURTESY US FOREST SERVICE
  • Courtesy US Forest Service
  • Carry an updated map to link up with the rerouted Trail 667 in the Bear Creek area.
• Although still not up to pre-Great Recession levels, funding for El Paso County’s parks from the county’s tax revenues was increased in 2017 and is slated to continue to increase over the next few years. Even with the added funding, however, the parks department will not be able to catch up with its list of projects and repairs throughout the county system. Meanwhile, the county has about $14.5 million in excess tax revenue that under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) can only be retained by the county if voters consent. El Paso County question 1A on this November’s ballot will ask taxpayers to, among other things, retain that money and direct $2.5 million of it to disaster recovery projects and parks, open space and trails projects. All of the flood damage projects are either in county parks, trails or trailheads. The remaining $12 million would go to a combination of county roads projects and repairs and the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument Hill and Castle Rock.

• The “Legacy Loop” got a step closer to completion thanks to a $1 million grant awarded in 2015 from Great Outdoors Colorado, which brought the total funding for the project to over $4 million so far. Envisioned by Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Palmer as an urban transportation greenway around what was then the outer limits of Colorado Springs, the Legacy Loop is now a system of connected hiking and cycling trails around Colorado Springs’ inner core. Construction projects funded this year by the grant included the paving of an existing trail on the west side of Monument Creek in Monument Valley Park and the construction of the Legacy Plaza, a trailhead and parking area for the loop, near Fontanero Street and Recreation Way that began in May and is expected to be completed by the end of October. Also, as part of its U.S. 24 and I-25 interchange project near America the Beautiful Park, the Colorado Department of Transportation installed a bridge connecting the Loop to the Midland Trail, which parallels U.S. 24, providing a cycling/pedestrian route to the west side of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
Burnt terrain spans Waldo Canyon, recently reopened via Rampart Range Road. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Burnt terrain spans Waldo Canyon, recently reopened via Rampart Range Road.
• In a surprise announcement on Oct. 3, the U.S. Forest Service opened the remaining sections of the Waldo Canyon burn area to public use. Closed since the Waldo Canyon Fire burned through the area a little over five years ago, the move has long been sought by the community. The opening of the area does come with some caveats, most notably that the trailhead and parking lot on U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs will remain closed, as will the original Waldo Canyon Trail. Users wanting to access the area will have to find their own way in and out from Rampart Range Road.

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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