Palmer Trail gets rebuilt as Colorado Springs' founder intended

August 8, 2013 Updated: August 8, 2013 at 8:16 am
photo - Volunteer crews built 1,000 feet of the Palmer Trail quickly, thanks to an old trail running through the area.
Volunteer crews built 1,000 feet of the Palmer Trail quickly, thanks to an old trail running through the area.  

Hikers and bikers on the popular Palmer-Red Red-Section 16 loop west of Colorado Springs may have noticed a lower stretch of the trail recently got a lot smoother.

Last weekend , volunteers with Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates built 1,000 feet of trail and a new entrance off High Drive, work that was done surprisingly quick after discovery of an old trail bed, purportedly built by crews working for Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer.

The trail makes a 7-mile loop from the Section 16 trailhead, up a mountainside, across a wide canyon and onto High Drive, a one-way road, currently closed to traffic, that returns to Lower Gold Camp Road.

Jim Schwerin, with Medicine Wheel, said the final stretch connecting with High Drive ran steeply downhill, resulting in erosion that had lowered it 5 feet below the original grade in spots. It was probably once a road to a Boy Scout camp farther up the valley. The organization got approval from city parks officials to relocate the trail.

While scouting for a new route, they found an overgrown path across the gully, which may have been built by Palmer's crews to connect the city with Crystal Park. Schwerin said it was likely abandoned 50 to 60 years ago as people began using the road to the Scout camp.

Working with Salida-based Tony Boone Trails, a company that has a 30-inch bulldozer, it took 20 volunteers just 8 hours to blaze the new trail. A thousand feet of the old trail was returned to nature the next morning, with new trees and debris and a makeshift sign blocking the old entrance from High Drive.

"That's very quick. Normally our group can do about a mile (of trail) in a summer season, using all-volunteer, non-mechanized labor," Schwerin said.

Wednesday, it was tough to tell where the old trail was, and hikers and mountain bikers seemed to be having no trouble finding the new route. The new entrance from High Drive is a couple hundred feet up the road.

"The new trail adheres to design principles known for centuries, namely running across the prevailing slope, with frequent areas for water to drain off the trail and down the hillside," Schwerin said.

"Like the original Palmer Trail farther up the hillside (designed by engineers), we expect the newly restored trail to last for decades with minimal maintenance."

Medicine Wheel funded the $2,000 project.

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