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Trail work to protect rare trout is underway near Colorado Springs

July 25, 2016 Updated: July 26, 2016 at 6:28 am
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Caption +
Cheyenne Cummings, left, and Trenton Bridwell of Mile High Youth Corp dig the route Thursday, July 22, 2016, of the new Mount Buckhorn connector trail between Trail 667 (Upper Captain Jack's) and the Bear Creek Trail along the north side of Mount Buckhorn. The youth corp was helping Rocky Mountain Field Institute build the trail. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

A project that has inspired nearly four years of discussion among local conservationists and recreationists is set to begin this week. 

The contractor hired by the U.S. Forest Service to reconfigure trails through the Bear Creek watershed was anticipated to arrive Monday in the mountains southwest of Colorado Springs. The contractor, Trails Unlimited, is expected to get a feel for the area before beginning work designed to protect an endangered trout population.

Trail construction is scheduled to last through September and will coincide with the decommissioning of the beloved segment of Trail 667 running beside Bear Creek through Jones Park.

Along with 667, also known as upper Cap'n Jacks, portions of trails 666, 668, 701, 720, 720.A, 622 and 622.A also will be closed during the project. In the end, more than 15 miles of trail and 3 miles of road will be realigned, and more than 6 miles of new trail will be built. The Trail 667 portion coming online will stretch to Frosty Park through the lower boundary of Jones Park near Kineo Mountain.

"It's exciting," Pikes Peak ranger Oscar Martinez said Monday. "I think the general perception I've gotten is, people are just ready to move forward. Now we're moving on implementing those decisions."

Those decisions began hatching in 2012, around the time research by the University of Colorado determined that Bear Creek stored the only known habitat of genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout. The Forest Service announced its intent to reroute trails around the fish's home due to concerns that sediment spurred into the water by hikers and bikers could be harmful.

Since then, concerned parties have met regularly for roundtable discussions with Forest Service personnel, providing input for the project. On Friday, they're invited to view the site of the new Trail 667 link, being referred to as the Kineo Trail. Most of the trail being built will allow motorists.

"Our group, we're in a tough spot. We're sad," said Cory Sutela, president of Medicine Wheel, the local nonprofit advocating for mountain bikers, many of whom regard the ride through Jones Park as one of the region's richest. "We believe in the process. We just want to make sure the trails are good so that it's not a complete loss for us."

Last week, a youth crew began constructing the first new trail as part of the project: a mile-long singletrack up Mount Buckhorn that connects Trail 667 with Trail 666 east of Jones Park. If work goes as planned, the trail will be finished this week.

"It's another opportunity to get out and try something new," David Deitemeyer, a city parks planner, said as he watched the crew led by staff of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the nonprofit steward of public lands.

The crew, funded in part by the Forest Service, also spent last week decommissioning user-made trails paralleling Bear Creek. The work included laying spare tree limbs and seeds over a path leading to Josephine Falls. As an out-and-back trip to the waterfall, the 667-666 connector serves as an alternative way to reach the view.

Sutela was more concerned about the construction that would be happening in Jones Park.

"We'd like to see a quality that's similar to what's going away," he said.

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Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Twitter: @SethBoster­­

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