Tuesday, near the summit of Queens Canyon Quarry, Gary Bradley turned to a hiking companion and said, “Look, there!” Less than 200 feet away, a herd of bighorn sheep was grazing or lying on a steep hillside of native grasses, clumps of wildflowers and small trees.
The sheep, some with lambs, turned snouts and perkedup ears toward the intruders. But they didn’t bolt. This was their mountain. It was a sweet moment for Bradley, who remembers stopping along Interstate 25 in the late 1980s, gazing west to the graywhite gash that was Queens Canyon Quarry and being appalled. He wasn’t alone. As early as 1966, then-Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall visited Colorado Springs and dubbed it “the city with the scar.” Over the next two decades, as the city grew northward to the foot of the quarry and beyond, many residents expressed disgust that the scar, not nearby Garden of the Gods or Pikes Peak, was domi- nating the western landscape of Colorado Springs. By the late 1980s, Bradley, a commercial Realtor, and many others thought it was time to do something about the scar. The quarry operator, Castle Concrete, was wrapping up more than 30 years of mining the mountainside for limestone, used in the concrete foundations of buildings at the Air Force Academy, the Colorado Springs Airport and NORAD. Colorado law required only minimal restoration of the mountain, and lawmakers were unwilling to require quarry operators — here or around the state — to do more than that. With the help of then-Gov. Roy Romer, Bradley and a small group of people eventually formed the nonprofit Colorado Mountain Reclamation Foundation. In 1995, the group — aided by hundreds of volunteers, civic-minded companies and Castle Concrete — embarked on an ambitious effort to rehabilitate the 82-acre quarry. During the next seven years, in an effort coordinated by foundation project manager Wanda Reaves, the steep quarry face was reshaped to hold soil and prevent erosion. Tons of topsoil were donated and hauled in by local builders. Native grass seed was spread, and 6,000 piñon and juniper trees were planted, sometimes watered by hand to keep them alive. The effort took an estimated 20,000 hours by volunteers. The foundation sponsored an annual hike into the quarry, a walk that it dubbed Scale the Scar, in hopes of attracting volunteers and donations. When the rehab work was completed a couple of years ago and Castle turned over the quarry to the U.S. Forest Service as a home for bighorn sheep, the name of the hike was changed to Hike the Habitat. On Saturday, people will have a chance — maybe the final chance — to Hike the Habitat. Access to the quarry is through two private parcels, and the foundation is concerned the easement to the quarry may go away after Castle finishes weed-control work and gets a bond back from the state. Bradley, who served as president of the foundation from 1996 to 2000 and remains on its board, thinks those who hike up to the quarry will be impressed. The views of the city and of rugged Queens Canyon on the backside of the quarry are spectacular. The green hillside, he said, stands as a visible symbol of what can be accomplished when people with good intentions pull together. “One of the joys of Colorado Springs is every day looking at our mountain backdrop,” he said. “This project is a perfect example of a public-private partnership with Castle that came out with a result that everybody wins.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0197 or email@example.com HIKE THE HABITAT What: 10th annual, possibly the last, public hike to Queens Canyon Quarry. When: Saturday. Details: Registration, 8 a.m. at Quarry Gate, next to the Navigators Administration Building on 30th Street. Cost: Adults, $20; children 12 and under, $12.50. Notes: No dogs will be allowed because the quarry is habitat for bighorn sheep. Water will be available. WHAT’S NEXT The Colorado Mountain Reclamation Foundation plans to scale back its activities the next three to five years until Castle Concrete stops active mining at the Pikeview Quarry, near Rockrimmon. After mining stops, the foundation plans to enlist volunteers, companies and Castle to rehabilitate Pikeview and Snyder Quarry on the west side. The foundation has planted almost 3,000 trees in the southern portion of Pikeview and will continue over the next few years to plant trees where mining has been completed.