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North Cheyenne Cañon Park master plan draws criticism

April 12, 2018 Updated: April 13, 2018 at 6:09 am
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Cathy Railton, Park Operations Administrator for the city, looks over the North Cheyenne Canon Park from High Drive (Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

A blueprint for the future of one of Colorado Springs' treasured outdoor hubs was met by heated opposition at a standing-room-only meeting Thursday.

The city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board next month will decide on whether to approve the North Cheyenne Cañon Park master plan, but some members worried the 164-page document posed more questions than answers, and residents demanded changes to the plan set to replace a dusty 1999 version.

The hike to the top of Helen Hunt Falls and beyond at North Cheyenne Canon is very popular for tourists as well as local hikers. Some park enthusiasts were on the trail on a warm Thursday afternoon, April 12, 2018. Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation advisory board met this morning to hear master plan presentations on North Cheyenne Canon Park and Strawberry Hill.(Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

"It pains me a little bit because I know and like the people who did this plan, (but) it's overkill," said Kent Obee, a longtime advocate, a former parks board member and past chairman of the Trails, Open Space and Parks Working Committee. "I think this one is twice as long as any other plan I've seen and, frankly, there's too much in it. It overreaches."

Discussion of how to serve rising visitor demand swirls around the canyon. It was the dominant topic at open houses held by parks officials and Tapis Associates consultants, who prepared the master plan for the city and said they heard from 350 people in the past 14 months.

"Not everybody's gonna get what they want, but we can compromise and come up with a robust plan that's well-supported," David Deitemeyer, parks planner, said in an interview.

Critics Thursday sounded disappointed by the process, resulting in decisions that they said were not well-supported.

The master plan recommends paving the scenic dirt stretch of Gold Camp Road that rises into the park, a move that planners said would reduce erosion and lend similar benefits to the Pikes Peak Highway. The plan also proposes closing the majority of the canyon's parking pull-offs except at trailheads.

Board member Daniel Bowan recognized planners' intent to prevent rogue trails made by hikers and mountain bikers from several pull-offs, "but I think we're missing the mark by going from 43 to 12 (pull-offs)," he said. "A widespread reduction of 72 percent is unsettling to me."

Pending funds, the plan gives the parks department full discretion to pave and close those pull-offs. A "toolbox" outlines other options requiring extra public involvement. Those include implementing a shuttle, establishing fees and capping the number of vehicles allowed to enter.

As far as traffic control, nothing is set by the plan. "I have to say, this seems like the do-nothing option," board member David Siegel said. "This feels a bit like we buried our heads in the sand."

During public comments, one dissenter invoked Edward Abbey, the author and anarchist who revolted against "industrial tourism."

"You're getting a lot of comments," Scott Hume told the board on which he formerly served. "I would suggest there's been substantially enough presented both by the board and the people to where you probably need to do another reiteration."

Other aspects of the master plan include:

- Designating trails known as the Chutes and Captain Morgan's as open to downhill biking only.

- Closing parts of the Daniel's Pass trail, a popular trail formed by mountain bikers, and realigning the route to sustainable standards. The path would connect with another trail that Deitemeyer said would provide "a backcountry, wilderness experience" into the 200 acres the city received through the controversial Strawberry Hill land swap. The "West Parcel," as it's known in the plan, features the historic Greenwood Park and Greenwood Settlement.

- Building the Creekside Trail, which would stem from the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center to Helen Hunt Falls, allowing access to the two areas without having to be on the road.

- Opening a planning process with climbers to formalize areas with beloved rock spires and ice slabs, including Hully Gully.

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