Cycling advocates are fighting against a proposed land swap between Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor, arguing that the city is on the cusp of trading away its best canvas for legal downhill mountain biking trails.
For the past three years, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates has lobbied the city for permission to build in a nearly 200-acre open space called Strawberry Fields in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. Though far from a done deal, the group's vision earned an enthusiastic reception from parks officials, who encouraged them to continue developing their plans.
At least two city parks staff members, Christian Lieber and David Dietemeyer, have accompanied Medicine Wheel trail builders on a visit of the area to learn more.
"The city was positive about it," Medicine Wheel board member Harry Hamill said. "But it was mainly: 'How are you going to pay for it?' It would require some serious structure-building. It's really steep and basically all Pikes Peak granite."
Medicine Wheel says those problems are solvable through trail engineering and private grants, creating an opportunity for up to three trails similar to those at Colorado ski resorts and places such as Whistler, British Columbia, a trail riding mecca.
But the issue could be moot under terms of the land swap, which would trade Strawberry Fields to The Broadmoor in exchange for other parcels totaling nearly twice the acreage and twice the value of the unused area.
In opposing the trade, Medicine Wheel is raising alarms over the potential for a missed opportunity at a time when Colorado is pursuing a $100 million plan to make it "the best state for biking."
Colorado Springs - which boasts some of the more accessible terrain in the Front Range - is oddly devoid of legal options for downhill riders, who can be distinguished by their head-to-toe body armor and unusually beefy bikes that come loaded with suspension.
Downhill riders generally are confined to a few illegal trails, mostly in Pike National Forest.
"Our big fear for mountain biking is having people building trails in the parks," Hamill said. "There's pressure to develop trails - technical trails - and people are out there doing it. We want to do it legally and provide an opportunity close to town."
What makes Strawberry Fields a promising candidate is access to roads. Under Medicine Wheel's preliminary design, the downhill trails would start off Old Stage Road and plummet down the canyon, feeding into a lower trail network that would be accessible to all users.
Access to Cheyenne Canyon Road means the downhillers would be able to do shuttled rides, potentially drawing cyclists from all over the state.
The group says paving stones and wooden structures could be used to stabilize the area.
"The other plus is, if you've ever hiked around there, that place is a dump," Hamill said. "There's refrigerators, broken glass, spray paint - all kinds of crap. If you have a legitimate use with people who care about it, it will be cared for."
Nothing could be done until the city reopens its master planning process for North Cheyenne Cañon Park - which is expected to happen within the next couple of years - and even then it would have to earn the public's support.