Advocates are unhappy with what they've seen of the trail set to replace one that is beloved in the mountains southwest of Colorado Springs.
A crew under the U.S. Forest Service began this month constructing the new Trail 667, a much-anticipated project that reached planning stages in 2012 soon after research found the Bear Creek watershed to be home to the only known habitat of pure greenback cutthroat trout. Protecting the fish meant rerouting trails to where recreationalists would not pose threats of contamination to the watershed.
To provide input for the trail's realignment, concerned groups sat in on regular discussions with the Forest Service over four years. Now some representatives of those groups feel they went unheard.
"I don't want to throw the Forest Service under the bus," said Cory Sutela, president of the mountain biking nonprofit Medicine Wheel. "We need to have a positive relationship and be able to work with them. But to be really honest, they did not live up to what they said they would do."
Medicine Wheel, worried about losing what is considered one of the region's richest mountain biking experiences on Trail 667, was one of three organizations present for a walk along the flagged route of the new trail. That was on July 29, when the Forest Service's crew had already arrived.
"We were invited to review it the day before they were going to run machinery," said Paul Mead, president of Friends of the Peak, the volunteer group stewarding trails on Pikes Peak. "That doesn't really give you any time to make adjustments."
And Mead saw reason for adjustments on the portion toured through the lower boundary of Jones Park toward Kineo Mountain. Among them, he said, were opportunities for scenic viewpoints. The segment visited, he said, "appeared as if somebody worked it out on a computer and hadn't really gone out to see what the land was really like."
"If you're going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to build a trail, you can take the time to build one that's interesting and nice to use," Mead said.
Sutela, too, saw ways for the trail to appeal more to mountain bikers. And he too expressed frustrations for a visit to the site that seemed all too delayed.
"For two years, I've been asking to go up and walk on the ground with (the Forest Service) and talk about ways to make the trail the best it could be," he said, "and they didn't take that opportunity until they'd been up there for a week with their machinery."
Forest Service officials spoke Wednesday of the primary objective for Trails Unlimited, the contractor building the trail. That objective: to make the Bear Creek Watershed safe.
"We're giving Trails Unlimited a lot of latitude to put the trail in the right place, to strike that balance of sustainability and kind of what I would call personal desireabilities," Pikes Peak District forest ranger Oscar Martinez said.
"There's no way, there's just no way I can meet everyone's own individual expectations," he added. "I've got to manage for the whole, and in this case, the whole means we're going to make it sustainable."
When it comes to building any multi-use trail, concerns are to be expected, officials said.
"Each user group has a different take on what they would like the trail to be," said Tambi Gustafson, the recreation program manager for the Pikes Peak District. "Bikers want a curvy feel, dirt bikers want slopes, and a hiker doesn't like hiking up those. . It's a challenge to incorporate all those elements on a trail."
Gustafson led the visit to the new Trail 667 site two weeks ago. Also in attendance with Medicine Wheel and Friends of the Peak was the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the nonprofit that led a youth crew in building a separate portion of trail as part of the project.
"We have to approach any project from a much broader perspective rather than any single interest or user perspective," said Jennifer Peterson, RMFI's executive director. "Certainly, we want to accommodate all user groups, and we do that based on the objective of the project we're working within."
Trails Unlimited is contracted to finish the new Trail 667 by the end of next month. By then, the existing 667, regarded historic for being a portion of the first formal trail that led to Pikes Peak in 1873, is expected to be decommissioned.
Martinez acknowledged "a little bit of a culture shock" that will come to users of the new trail.
Indeed, advocates are shaken.
"We're trying to figure out if it's altogether too late to give input," Sutela said.
Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332