It's a familiar experience for unwitting cyclists in Colorado Springs.

Riding along the Shooks Run Trail, a paved path just east of downtown, can seem like a great way to link up with the Pikes Peak Greenway for a long loop around the city center.

Instead, you're spilled out into a weed-choked, junk-strewn lot and retreat as quickly as possible before being noticed by the rats and skunks - or you'll have to brave the truck traffic and potholes on Las Vegas Street. It's one of the most glaring omissions in Colorado Springs' urban trail system.

A new effort is underway to raise money to bridge that and other trail gaps downtown, to create what has been called the Emerald Loop or the Legacy Loop. City officials are applying this fall for a $1 million grant for this and other creekside recreation projects.

"The Emerald Loop has been around since (Gen. William Jackson) Palmer put the town together, in various forms," said Gary Barber, chairman of the Greenway Fund, the non-profit arm of the Fountain Creek Watershed District.

The watershed district was created in 2009 by a consortium of local governments to address environmental issues with Fountain Creek.

The Greenway Fund's mission is to enhance recreation and public perception of the creeks in the watershed. It is funded by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and other donors.

"Our over-arching goal is get folks back down to the water, to dip your toes in the water," Barber said.

That might be easier said than done. Many people regard Fountain and Monument creeks as nothing more than urban drainage channels, with water the color of iced tea and strange smells along the banks, which a couple of years ago were home to the infamous tent cities of the homeless. These days, Fountain Creek only seems to get attention when it floods.

Barber hopes the Emerald Loop could begin to change attitudes. The 13-mile loop would also require a new stretch of trail to the north, from where the Shooks Run and Rock Island trails meet at an old railroad line to the Greenway.

Working with the Greenway Fund, the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks program plans to submit a grant application to Great Outdoors Colorado next month for the project.

The Greenway Fund also wants to create a permanent 10K course along Monument Creek, which could allow people to run along the creek from Bijou Street north to Fontanero Street and back down without having to cross any streets. It would require trail underpasses at Uintah Street and Mesa Road.

Greenway Fund board member Karen Elliott said the underpasses would mean the many charity races held each year along the creek wouldn't have to close any streets.

It's all modeled after what has worked in other cities, such as Denver, to create amenities out of urban creeks and encourage a mind set of conservation.

"When people can get close to the water, like with the underpasses, they can wade in it, walk in it, sit on a rock, they will protect it," Elliott said.

If the grant is awarded, the 10K course and underpasses could be built next summer, followed by the northern Shooks Run connection in 2015 and the southern connection in 2016.

Next spring, work will begin at an "environmental playground," a wading area where students can conduct water quality testing on field trips, part of an initiative to introduce children to the creek.

Said Elliott, "They're going to be the future stewards. They'll realize there are tadpoles, that they can wade in it, and it's clean."