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Cheyenne Mountain trail completion imminent, but not all happy

March 8, 2018 Updated: March 9, 2018 at 2:13 pm
Caption +
Volunteers Allan Harwood of Kemmerer, Wyo., left, and Matt Smokovitz of Colorado Springs cut a trail Saturday, May 30, 2015, as Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado work on the Dixon Trail to the top of Cheyenne Mountain from Cheyenne Mountain State Park. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The Colorado Springs Parks Advisory Board agreed Thursday to help buy an easement to complete a long-anticipated trail to the top of Cheyenne Mountain.

Board members unanimously authorized Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) to spend $8,135 from its taxpayer-built program. The Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park will pay the other half for the 7 acres valued at $16,270.

The park's manager, Mitch Martin, said he expected the landowner to soon sign an agreement with the city, ending years of negotiations over Dixon Trail's gap.

Martin said he will request money from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build the trail's last quarter-mile, and a grand opening is likely by early fall, or in October at "the absolute latest."

But as hikers near their dream of sumitting the Pikes Peak region's second-most famous mountain, not all outdoors enthusiasts were thrilled.

"We're looking at finally punching through to the top, the promised land, and it is the 'unpromised' land for mountain bikers," said state Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Springs Democrat and rider advocate.

Merrifield said he will do whatever he can "to make sure that our taxpayer money is spent fairly."

He and other mountain bikers as well as equestrians made their feelings known in 2012, when Cheyenne Mountain State Park crafted its current management plan.

That year-long public process ended with a plan that makes half of the Dixon Trail multi-use.

But harsh grades on the rocky final stretch "pose an unacceptably high risk level for mountain bicyclists and equestrians" and "threaten long-term trail sustainability," the plan says.

In 2014, as volunteers continued their nearly decade-long endeavor to build the summiting route off the North Talon Trail, the park contracted with Rocky Mountain Field Institute to construct the stretch of Dixon down from the mountain above 9,200 feet.

The RMFI took two years to finish that portion, using the U.S. Forest Service's specifications for "backcountry trails," with several switchbacks and rock steps - what Martin has said are not conducive to bikes or horses.

Medicine Wheel, a local nonprofit for cyclists, "doesn't agree with the assessment that the Dixon Trail is too rugged," group President Cory Sutela said at Thursday's board meeting. "That's a conversation we ask parks staff to reopen and revisit."

On Barr Trail to Pikes Peak's summit, "there's definitely sections where it's not possible to ride, so you carry your bike up or carry your bike down," Sutela said. "There's not many people who want to do it, but you're allowed to do it. And in this case, you'd also be rewarded with additional great riding (at the top)."

Dixon indeed promises to be an epic trip. It starts after about 3 miles on the Talon Trail, with the summiting route gaining 2,000-plus feet over another 3 miles. Users will arrive at the Top of the Mountain Trail, a 3.6-mile figure-eight circuit already laid in widely undiscovered places.

"You just get the chills thinking about it," said Pat Cooper, president of the Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park.

TOPS Manager Britt Haley agreed there should be more dialogue with all users but said the state park's decision-making "isn't in our hands."

"But certainly, moving forward on the easement is going to allow us to engage in those conversations."

Also Thursday, the board approved TOPS spending of $281,500 for 72 acres around Rock Creek Canyon - building onto the millions of dollars and 1,875 acres the program has invested in expanding Cheyenne Mountain State Park since its establishment 18 years ago.

Developing that chunk of canyon land won't get mountain bikers and equestrians closer to the top.

But Martin said it could be possible elsewhere. With more property, and with the U.S. Forest Service's partnership, a back way via Gold Camp Road could be created toward the summit.

Martin said he doesn't oppose a trial period on Dixon's upper reaches to see how multiple users play together and how the trail holds up.

"No door is shut forever," said Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. "But as a responsible land manager, first and foremost, he has to take care of the resource."

Parks Board member Carol Beckman said she could envision multi-use all the way up Dixon, though Thursday she was simply excited to envision the trail closer to completion.

Since 2011, she and others with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado have taken to the mountainside with picks and shovels, ending countless work days sweaty and sore.

"Finally," she said, "it looks like it's going to happen."

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