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Death of bin Laden messes with races at academy

By: R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
July 6, 2011
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photo - Mark Kirchhoefer rode his mountain bike on the Falcon Trail near Stanley Creek at the Air Force Academy in 2010. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette file
Mark Kirchhoefer rode his mountain bike on the Falcon Trail near Stanley Creek at the Air Force Academy in 2010. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette file 

The Air Force Academy, with its beautiful grounds and extensive road and trail network, has long been popular among road cyclists and mountain bikers.

But two months after Osama bin Laden was killed, riders are still being turned away from the trails because of heightened security.

A road race scheduled for August at the academy has been canceled, and a trail race may be moved from the grounds.

“It’s not quite as open as we were a year ago,” said academy spokesman Meade Warthen.

Out of concern for terrorist reprisals, the academy began requiring visitors without a Department of Defense ID to enter only through the north gate, with valid ID, following Laden’s death.

Academy Drive from the security gate to the visitors center has been open, but access beyond is blocked. Other roads normally open to the public also are blocked to vehicles and bicycles.

These restrictions will remain indefinitely, Warthen said.

Access has been restricted in the past. For 5 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the public was not allowed on any academy trail.

Academy officials had given Andy Bohlmann, organizer of the Sand Creek Colorado Senior Road Race Championship, approval to hold the race Aug. 14. Roads were to be closed to vehicles near the stadium to allow an expected 400 cyclists to safely race, as they did in 2010.

But funneling visitors through the north gate means the course cannot be closed to vehicles on race day. With little time to find a replacement venue, Bohlmann pulled the plug on the event.

He does not begrudge the academy, but may not plan future races there.

“It’s a Department of Defense facility and we can lose it on a moment’s notice,” he said.

Tim Scott, director of the 2nd annual 24 Hours of Colorado Springs mountain bike race, got the OK in February to hold the race on the Falcon Trail, considered one of the region’s best mountain bike trails. This year’s race is a national-level competition, and Scott expects up to 1,000 riders.

But Scott is no longer counting on access to the academy for the Oct 1-2 race.

“The Falcon Trail is always my first choice for this event because it’s such a perfect venue and distance, but at the same time, this city has so many great options. I’m perfectly happy doing it somewhere else,” he said.

He said academy officials have recommended he find a new location. He is working with city officials and, barring a change in academy security, hopes to have a new race site by the end of July.

Everyday use of the trail also has been hit-and-miss.

While academy officials in May told The Gazette the Falcon Trail was open to public use, many mountain bikers without military ID have reported being turned away at the north gate.

Warthen confirmed Wednesday that parts of the Falcon Trail are off-limits to the public. The Santa Fe Trail, which runs parallel to Interstate 25 and crosses academy grounds, is open, he said.

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