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GUEST COLUMN: Time to stop scarring our mountain backdrop in Colorado Springs

By: Richard Skorman
April 15, 2018 Updated: April 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm
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The view from U.S. Highway 115 shows the hill, behind the sign, where the Hitch Rack Ranch rock quarry would be built behind. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

After reading The Gazette editorial supporting the Transit Mix proposal to create another huge mining scar on our mountain backdrop at Hitch Rack Ranch, I can't remain silent.

As a former board member of the Mountain Reclamation Foundation, I and thousands of other volunteers in the community know all too well how difficult it is to restore land when all its vegetation and topsoil are removed. Yes, the Queens Canyon Scar next to Garden of the Gods looks better after 5,000 truckloads of yard waste were placed on it and thousands of trees planted, but it's still an eyesore, right next to Garden of the Gods, one of the most visited and beautiful city parks in the country. It's time to stop scarring our mountain backdrop for cheap gravel.

Richard Skorman Monday, February 6, 2017. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Although Transit Mix and The Gazette claim that Hitch Rack Ranch is the perfect site for a new, several hundred acre horizontal scar, there are many of us who disagree.

First, it is only 9 miles from the city limits, and this massive mining operation is predicted to add 400-500 truck trips a day onto Colorado 115 for 40 plus years, with no left turn signal on an already congested section of Colorado 115.

Second, the proposed mine is adjacent to the Aiken Canyon 1,545-acre nature preserve - a rare wildlife and plant corridor managed by The Nature Conservancy, the largest land protection campaign in our county's history.

Third, it shuts down the plans that El Pomar and the Nature Conservancy have to create a Nature Center and Nature Preserve on land donated to them next to the proposed quarry. That Preserve and Nature Center would not only connect to the Aiken Canyon preserve but could provide hundreds to thousands of new acres to our wilderness and outdoor recreation inventory (10 miles from Colorado Springs). This would be a unique opportunity for our schoolchildren for generations to come to study wildlife and plant species in the Pikes Peak region.

Fourth, the site was promised to be protected from development by county planning and County Parks documents since the 1990s. So the 40 residents who will be affected by this large mining operation bought their properties thinking that was the case. I can go on. It has been identified by the Colorado Heritage Program as having significant wildlife and plant life. It's right next to Little Turkey Creek, the only riparian area in the vicinity and an established elk migration corridor and likely habitat for the Mexican spotted owl.

Now if The Gazette's editorial board thinks that the reason to create another huge scar and denude more land on our precious mountain backdrop is because of the promise of a mountain bike park at the Pikeview Quarry, dream on. The artist's renditions look good, but the reality is that Pikeview will not likely be stable enough to create a bike park on it for many decades to come, if ever.

The Pikeview Quarry site is inherently dangerous, partially due to the unsafe mining activities of Transit Mix. An investigation after a major landslide in 2008 at Pikeview found that Pikeview was so dangerous that it had to be closed from 2009 to 2013. Experts agree that further slope failure could happen at any time on Pikeview, and it's not a question of "if" but "when" it will occur. And they all concur that it may never be stable enough for any use, let alone a public bike park.

And finally, yes we do need aggregate gravel for construction, but a new mine is not needed for anyone but Transit Mix. This would be the fourth mine along Colorado 115, none of the existing mines are operating near capacity and all have significant amounts of material available. Let's not destroy another beautiful and environmentally special part of our backdrop forever, out of "false" fears that there is a shortage of aggregate for construction.

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Richard Skorman is president of the Colorado Springs City Council.

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