Frustration was evident among El Paso County commissioners on Thursday as they signed off on the next step in a saga that will eventually lead to rerouted and closed trails in the Bear Creek watershed.
The commissioners voted 4-1 to approved a "Memorandum of Agreement" that will require the county to document trail closures in the Bear Creek area and install interpretive signs highlighting historical aspects of the Jones Park historic district. The county took ownership of the 1,191-acre Jones Park from the City of Colorado Springs in January 2015, promising to keep the land open to the public.
Thursday's frustration comes two weeks after the board approved an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to fund a reroute of the Jones Park Trail, also known as Trail 667 or Upper Cap'n Jacks, away from Bear Creek and the rare cutthroat trout that calls it home. Multiple commissioners said Thursday that they were approached by Forest Service officials in the interim and told them delaying the decision on the Memorandum of Agreement would mean a delay in trail construction in Jones Park.
"It came to our attention that unless we agree to this, (the trail construction) might not go through," said Commissioner Amy Lathen.
The agreement that received unanimous approval from the board May 18 gave the go-ahead for the county to contribute almost $200,000 to rerouting Trail 667. Pikes Peak ranger Oscar Martinez said at the time that the vote paved the way for Trails Unlimited to begin construction in July.
The commissioners felt pressured into signing the agreement Thursday after believing the construction plan was set.
Peggy Littleton, the District-5 commissioner, said she felt like the U.S. Forest Service was "holding a community hostage" and "going back on its word." Littleton cast the only "no" vote on Thursday.
Tim Wolken, the county's executive director of community services, said the Memorandum of Agreement was an expected step in the process to protect the endangered greenback cutthroat trout. In 2012, it was revealed that the Bear Creek Basin is home to more than 700 of the endangered Colorado state fish.
The creek in the mountains west of Colorado Springs is the only place wildlife biologists know the fish can survive. Research showed that former prospector and homesteader Joseph C. Jones, for whom Jones Park is named, introduced the trout into Bear Creek. Conservationists worry that continued used of the trails near the creek by hikers, mountain bikers and motorcyclists will lead to more sediment in the waterway and further degradation of trout habitat.
The Memorandum of Agreement approved Thursday says that appropriate Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation forms for Jones Park must be filled out before trail alignment, construction or decommissioning is done. The forms will have to include files and reports according to the National Historic Preservation Act, and they will need to be approved by officials with the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands.