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Gazette Premium Content Popular Colorado Springs trail will remain shut down until next year

By Lance Benzel Updated: April 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

Eager to resume your hikes on Palmer Trail in the city's western foothills?

Look elsewhere until spring of 2015.

That's the word from Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, which estimates it will take up to a year to fully reopen the 6-mile Palmer Trail/Section 16 Loop - news sure to come as a jolt to the trail's ardent fans.

The city closed the Palmer Trail part of the loop last fall after the region was battered by flooding.

Although Palmer Trail held up well in the downpour, High Drive did not, and as far as the city is concerned, their fates are intertwined.

Scott Abbott, the city's regional parks, trails and open space supervisor, said Palmer Trail will remain closed until repairs are complete to High Drive, a dirt road that leads to the trailhead.

Securing federal funding for the $250,000 repair job and clearing regulatory hurdles involved in the restoration work is expected to keep the popular hiking and biking trail off-limits until March, said David Deitemeyer, a city park planner.

"It's just a complex process that takes time," he told The Gazette on Thursday.

Questions about Palmer Trail have dogged the city since winter loosened its grip, and they're made more urgent by other area closures, such as fire-ravaged Waldo and Williams canyons. In another blow to runners and cyclists, the U.S. Forest Service appears poised to close and reroute trails along nearby Bear Creek in a measure to protect a threatened trout species.

ALSO: Local parks receive grants to repair damage.

Section 16 remains open to all users, but a closed sign is posted at the Crystal Park turn-off on Palmer Trail. Another closed sign is posted at the trailhead on High Drive.

The continuing closure of Palmer Trail has irked the recreational community because of widespread reports that the trail appears to be in fine condition, said Susan Davies of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, a Colorado Springs advocacy group.

"There's a real trust-credibility issue that we feel needs to be addressed," she told the parks advisory board during the group's regular meeting Thursday.

Also drawing a keen focus by recreational groups is the closure of Cap'n Jacks from High Drive to Gold Camp Road.

The trail - also called Lower Jacks or the Penrose Multiuse Trail - likewise was shuttered after last fall's flooding.

Critics say the trail, which involves city-owned land as well as U.S. Forest Service property, remains suitable for mountain biking and lies mostly beyond the Bear Creek watershed that influences trout habitat.

Not wanting to contribute to illicit use, the city will not reopen its portion of lower Cap'n Jacks until the Forest Service does the same, Abbott said.

"Those two trails lead you directly into closed areas," Abbott said, referring to Palmer Trail and Cap'n Jacks.

Abbott said the city is committed to coordinating with the Forest Service on its Bear Creek Restoration Project, which also has closed upper Cap'n Jacks and other Bear Creek Basin trails popular with dirt bikers, cyclists and hikers.

When the Forest Service intends to lift the Cap'n Jacks closure is unclear. Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Timock didn't respond Thursday to an email seeking further information.

Part of the delay in reopening Palmer Trail has to do with seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to cover the tab for the repairs.

The city also is seeking an additional FEMA grant to pay for improvements meant to blunt the effect of downpours - such as improving culverts and installing sediment traps. Wildlife biologists say that sediment from High Drive is a detriment to trout habitat.

Before work begins, plans must pass muster with multiple agencies that will evaluate the changes for sustainability and other considerations.

"All that needs to be in place and repairs completed before we open it to recreation," Abbott said.

Once it's open, High Drive will be restricted to nonmotorized use only.

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