Updated: May 13, 2011 at 12:00 am
Rick Bergles says it’s a crime what the Colorado Springs Parks Department is doing in Stratton Open Space: cutting down trees and burying the slash along old social paths and rerouting hikers onto new trails.
But the city says Bergles is the criminal, ignoring signs to stay on established trails and off reclamation areas. He even ignored warnings from police, leading frustrated officials to ticket him. He’s seeking a jury trial.
So you can actually be ticketed and hauled into court for hiking off trail?
Yes, in extreme cases, says Kurt Schroeder, manager of the city’s parks, trails and open space.
He describes Bergles as a rogue hiker who has defied the city’s efforts to protect Stratton, a 318-acre paradise for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders who swarm its sloping forest near Cheyenne Cañon.
“Mr. Bergles feels he ought to have free run of the park,” Schroeder said. “He refuses to stay on the trails. He lays in his own trails and he removes brush we put in to block off old social trails he uses.”
To defend himself, Bergles, 61, has posted online photos and a couple videos in which he castigates parks officials for dramatically increasing the risk of wildfire with its methods.
He calls them tree “mutilators, murderers and executioners” and describes the trail work as negligent and reckless, a “desecration” and even “arboreal infanticide” for cutting down trees and using them to block trails.
“They’ve turned natural fire breaks into fire highways,” Bergles declares. “It’s a conduit for fire.”
The slash piles would act as “jackpots of fuel” for a wildfire, said Christina Randall, city wildfire mitigation expert. But the risk is small, she said, and outweighed by the need to stop erosion in the park.
Schroeder said the old social paths funnel rainwater and turn into gullies, accelerating erosion. Trees are piled in them to collect soils and gravel.
It’s ugly and slow and it angers Bergles, who prefers the old paths.
And it really upsets him that he can’t wander anywhere he likes in Stratton, which the city bought in 1999 for $5.9 million.
“They are keeping me off open space,” Bergles said, growing very agitated as we spoke. “They don’t have the authority to keep me off publicly owned open space.”
Others who have tried to reason with Bergles have found him fanatical in his insistence the city is destroying Stratton.
Kent Obee, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, toured Stratton with Bergles. Until Bergles got angry and ran off, Obee said.
“Stratton is in danger of being loved to death,” Obee said. “They are trying to protect it by rerouting old, bad trails. This whole thing is really unfortunate.”