Trail construction designed to protect a population of rare fish in the mountains near Colorado Springs may begin this summer.
El Paso County Commissioners signed off on an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, paving the way for the work near Jones Park.
The five commissioners approved a county contribution of almost $200,000 to the project that has been in the works since the Bear Creek Basin north of Cheyenne Canyon was targeted for trail closures and reroutes in 2014.
Trails Unlimited, a group that works with the Forest Service, will reroute Trail 667, also known as the Jones Park trail or upper Cap'n Jacks, away from the creek where a population of rare cutthroat trout lives.
"This gives them the assurance that we have a contract," said Pikes Peak ranger Oscar Martinez minutes after the boarded voted Tuesday.
Martinez and Janelle Valladares, a fisheries biologist with the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, represented the Forest Service at the meeting.
Valladares said Trails Unlimited would likely begin its work where the South Slope Recreation Area meets Jones Park. She said the trail builders could begin as early as July 1, "depending on what other projects they're working on."
The more than $190,000 approved Tuesday by the county will combine with about $40,000 from the Forest Service and about $120,000 granted to the Forest Service to begin the project. The entire project carries a budget of about $324,000, which includes construction of about 5 miles of new trail and the possible closure of up to 2.5 miles, including upper Cap'n Jacks and part of the Bear Creek Trail (666).
Controversy arose in 2015 when it was brought to light that the Cap'n Jacks and Bear Creek trails follow the route of the first road built to the top of Pikes Peak in 1873.
County Director of Community Services Tim Wolken said Tuesday that the fate of the historic portions of those trails is "not a done deal yet." Just before the commissioners voted on the resolution, Commissioner Amy Lathen stressed that continued use of those trails is a priority of the board.
"It is extremely important to protect public access to the historic trail," Lathen said.
Martinez and Valladares added that the work that Trails Unlimited will begin this summer has nothing to do with the ongoing debate over the historic road.
Plans for trail rerouting and potential closures in the Bear Creek Basin began after genetic testing in 2012 revealed the creek is home to about 750 genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado's state fish. Research revealed that homesteader Joseph C. Jones, for whom Jones Park is named, introduced the fish into Bear Creek.
Conservationists worry that continued used of the trails near the creek by hikers, mountain bikers and motorcyclists will lead to more sediment in the waterway and further degradation of trout habitat.
The Jones Park area belonged to Colorado Springs Utilities prior to last year. In January 2015, CSU agreed to hand over the 1,191 acres to the county, which promised to maintain public use of Jones Park.