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Key questions facing North Cheyenne Cañon with planning underway for beloved Colorado Springs park

November 13, 2017 Updated: November 13, 2017 at 10:05 pm
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Hikers cross the new third bridge over North Cheyenne Creek Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, while hiking the Seven Bridges Trail outside Colorado Springs. The third and seventh bridges were recently replaced on the popular North Cheyenne Canyon trail. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The future is being imagined for one of Colorado Springs' premier outdoor hubs.

City planners twice have met with crowds of hikers, mountain bikers, climbers and concerned citizens to discuss a North Cheyenne Cañon Park that can cater to this century's rising number of users. The park's master plan hasn't been updated since 1999.

It's a pivotal moment for the scenic expanse that lies in the city's southwest mountains and is central to its heritage. Springs founding father Gen. William Jackson Palmer donated the property that has grown to today's local refuge and tourist destination, with parking lots prone to summer congestion.

The new management plan will focus on adjacent Stratton Open Space and forest preserves as well as an undeveloped parcel on the park's western edge - the 208 acres around Mount Muscoco that the city acquired when it traded nearby Strawberry Hill to The Broadmoor.

No decisions will be made until after the next public meeting Jan.25. The city hopes to have a master plan approved in May.

Here's a breakdown of some key issues and ideas discussed so far:

Where do the cars go?

As a way to reduce traffic in Garden of the Gods, a city contractor is studying the possibility of a shuttle. The same possibility has been proposed by the consultant overseeing North Cheyenne Cañon's planning process.

Another consideration is converting the canyon's two-way road into a one-way, with vehicles entering from the Starsmore Visitor Center and exiting down rugged Gold Camp Road. The other lane could be reserved for cyclists and pedestrians.

"But that's putting a heck of a lot more traffic on that dirt road," says Carol Beckman, a parks advisory board member who's had a seat at the talking tables. "Is it built to sustain that kind of heavy load?"

Another option could allow vehicles two-way reign in the lower canyon, with Gold Camp Road being a one-way exit rather than another entrance.

More or less adventure?

Park planner David Deitemeyer calls North Cheyenne Cañon's new parcel - the Mount Muscoco addition - "very pristine backcountry" with two historic homesteads and a pair of old, faded trails that could be worth "trying to find and sustainably reconstruct to have a loop back there."

With the acquisition, the city wants to formalize the Daniels Pass Trail, popular among mountain bikers. "The problem is to make anything official, it's gonna change the character of it," says Harry Hammill with Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates.

Mountain bikers ride the rerouted Chamberlain Trail between North Cheyenne Canon and the Stratton Open Space Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Though discouraged by the U.S. Forest Service's recent realignments in the Bear Creek Watershed, which hampered the downhill experience, the canyon remains a prime mountain biking stage. Some heavily used, non-system trails could be closed on the way to a master plan. Hammill says it's time to push for trail builds that improve connectivity and keep wheels in the woods, off the roads.

With the amount of user conflicts at issue, the Chutes could become a bike-only trail, Deitemeyer says.

Trouble in the neighborhood?

Residents along Gold Camp and Canyonwood roads have other conflicts with the city. Especially worrisome are reports of overnight campfires and bonfires.

"A match comes up here, man, it could all just go," says Patrick Burnett, who along with a dozen others living along Canyonwood have the Waldo Canyon fire fresh on their minds.

Parks officials say gates at Palmer Park have reduced moonlight outlaws there. Gates could be considered for North Cheyenne Cañon, but without being able to open and close them, they could be problematic for residents who use the canyon road. Residents also wonder how redirecting traffic would affect their travel.

Burnett likes the idea of a summer shuttle. "It needs to be regulated somehow," he says. "Our biggest fear is getting in and out. Nobody tries to go down on the weekends because it's just such a mess."

Changes to the climbing scene?

North Cheyenne Cañon is home to the city's best ice climbing. The Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance has lobbied for a more sustainable trail to Silver Cascade Falls, which forms the beginner-friendly slab that regularly draws groups. On the other end of the difficulty spectrum is Hully Gully, the unmarked area off Old Stage Road, away from the park's center.

"Hully Gully is not beginner ice climbing," says the alliance's Stewart Green. "Some people certainly treat it as such, and that leads to conflict."

He says some "almost lead to fistfights" with top rope climbers in the compact gully.

While the site is without designated parking and signage, climbers and official planners hesitate to call more attention to the place.


Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Twitter: @SethBoster­­

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