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Jones Park trail realignment will resume next spring

October 19, 2016 Updated: October 20, 2016 at 6:19 am
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photo - Cheyenne Cummings, left, and Trenton Bridwell of Mile High Youth Corp dig the route Thursday, July 22, 2016, of the new Mount Buckhorn connector trail between Trail 667 (Upper Captain Jack's) and the Bear Creek Trail along the north side of Mount Buckhorn. The youth corp was helping Rocky Mountain Field Institute build the trail.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Cheyenne Cummings, left, and Trenton Bridwell of Mile High Youth Corp dig the route Thursday, July 22, 2016, of the new Mount Buckhorn connector trail between Trail 667 (Upper Captain Jack's) and the Bear Creek Trail along the north side of Mount Buckhorn. The youth corp was helping Rocky Mountain Field Institute build the trail. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

The much-debated and delayed trail realignment project through the recreation hotbed known as Jones Park is set to move forward in the spring.

The project, spurred on in 2012 as it became feared that recreationalists could fling sediment into the Bear Creek watershed and cause harm to an endangered species of greenback cutthroat trout, will pick up where it left off in mid-September: near Kineo Mountain in southwest Colorado Springs.

Crews with Trails Unlimited, an enterprise unit of the U.S. Forest Service, halted there with the construction of the new Trail 667. The plan had been to continue the historically beloved trail along the southern side of the mountain, but feasibility concerns sparked new discussion of what to do with the alignment. The answer to go north of Kineo came at the end of Trails Unlimited's contract.

The agency has agreed to return in the spring to finish the job, Forest Service officials told interest groups Wednesday night in a roundtable meeting of the sort that has been ongoing since the project's beginnings four years ago. Work will continue pending approval by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the State Historic Preservation Office. Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez is seeking out additional funding for the trail-building, as the project will exceed its previous $320,000 expectation.

During the meeting, two arching trail options were shown on a map: one flagged by Trails Unlimited, and another flagged very near to it by Friends of the Peak, the regional trail advocacy group, and Medicine Wheel, advocating for mountain bikers.

Tambi Gustafson, the recreation program manager with the Pikes Peak District representing the office in place of the absent Martinez, said her boss would let Trails Unlimited decide on an option that would be most sustainable.

Each alignment reaches toward Bear Creek's drainage, causing worry among advocates of the watershed and its inhabitants.

"That's a direct path for sediment to the stream," said Allyn Cratz, president for the local chapter of Trout Unlimited. "To me, you're asking for trouble by messing with that soil."

Gustafson expressed confidence on the Forest Service's part.

"I think the point we're trying to stress is, we had Trails Unlimited stake out the most sustainable way they could lay it out, and this is the route they chose," she said.

She along with El Paso County Director of Community Services Tim Wolken also stressed to the group that the so-far completed portion of Trail 667 was temporary, and that its criticized width would be slimmed with the project's completion. They explained that the vehicle-sized space was cleared to allow Trail Unlimited's machines through, and that the trail would end up between 24 to 36 inches.

"This is going to be a multi-use trail, we want to emphasize that," Wolken said. "Talk to one user group and they might like single-track, talk to another, and they want it more wide. We're trying to find that happy middle."

Wolken, involved in the project with the reroutes stretching into county land, presented on Wednesday plans to spend a $3,000 grant on signage through Jones Park that would provide educational information on the greenback cutthroat trout. He said the county has applied for a $75,000 grant through Great Outdoors Colorado to improve the fish's habitat with efforts including bank stabilization.

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