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Air Force Academy cites attacks as reason for halting solo hikes, trail rides

January 27, 2015 Updated: January 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm
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photo - Mark Kirchhoefer rode his mountain bike March 30 on the Falcon Trail near Stanley Creek at the United States Air Force Academy. Blodgett Peak is in the center of the background. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE
Mark Kirchhoefer rode his mountain bike March 30 on the Falcon Trail near Stanley Creek at the United States Air Force Academy. Blodgett Peak is in the center of the background. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE 

Planning a visit to one of the Air Force Academy’s trails and open spaces? Bring a friend — or don’t go at all.

That’s the thrust of a new “buddy system” rule that bars anyone from running, hiking or cycling on academy trails without at least one friend.

Violators could be ticketed or banned from the base.

The change was announced Friday and is in effect at the 10-square-mile campus north of Colorado Springs, an academy spokesman confirmed.

The directive — signed by Col. Stacey T. Hawkins, who oversees the 10th Air Base Wing — began attracting notice shortly after the academy posted the news on its Facebook page.

In his memo, Hawkins referred to “recent events” as a basis for the decision. In a follow-up statement to The Gazette, the academy said the change comes after an attack was reported on academy grounds in December and again “more recently.”

No further information was available, including details about the nature of the attacks or whether anyone was injured, academy spokesman Meade Warthen said.

Those violating the rule can face legal action or “denial of installation access privileges,” the memo said, though Warthen said the focus will be on spreading awareness rather than taking action.

“We’re going to be judicious. We’ll give the person a warning. We’re going to sit there and explain to them the policy and just tell them in the future they will have to have a buddy,” Warthen said.

The rule applies to Falcon Trail, a popular 13-mile route that winds through the foothills, along with all other trails and “unimproved areas” excluding Santa Fe Trail, according to a memorandum that details the policy change.

The memo described the change as “temporary” but said it will remain in place until further notice.

“I think it probably affects the entire local outdoor community,” said Jim Schwerin of Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, a mountain biking advocacy group.

Falcon Trail routinely is touted as a top mountain biking destination in the Pikes Peak region, and it’s common to see cyclists, runners and hikers using it “solo” without incident, Schwerin said.

Medicine Wheel wants the chance to make the case that having “more eyes on the ground,” rather than fewer, bolsters safety for everyone, he added.

“If there’s a specific issue they’re trying to address, then maybe we can find a more productive way to address it,” Schwerin said.

Security and other factors drive periodic changes at the academy. Officials cut off public recreation on campus in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The trails were reopened to the public in October 2006.

In June, the academy cited manpower issues in reducing public gate access by two hours, limiting visits to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

And a once-popular hiking trail through Stanley Canyon now is restricted to people who possess a valid military ID

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