Operators of Cheyenne Mountain State Park are pursuing a worthy goal for the new year: finally completing a long-awaited route to the Cheyenne Mountain summit.
The so-called Dixon Trail, high in the park's southwestern corner, has been under construction by volunteers for the past five years, but poor weather and the remote, rugged terrain have slowed progress to a crawl.
Now park managers are turning to the professionals at the Rocky Mountain Field Institute in Colorado Springs in hopes of closing a 1.5-mile gap that remains.
Under a $50,000 contract with the state, RMFI trail builders will spend six weeks on the mountain, along with any volunteers they can enlist, in an effort to bring the project to a conclusion, said park manager Mitchell Martin.
"I am really thinking that we should be able to be open to the public in 2018," Martin told The Gazette. "There's a possibility that something could happen in the fall of this year, but I don't want to get everybody's hopes up and fall short of that."
The 3-mile Dixon Trail will connect the Talon Trail loop to the Cheyenne Mountain summit ridge, granting a path to the Top of the Mountain Trail, a new 3.6-mile figure 8 loop that has been finished but is not yet publicly accessible.
Martin estimated that the climb up Cheyenne Mountain will rise 3,000 feet in just under 7 miles before reaching the top loop, as measured from the park's lower parking lot.
The prospect of a stout new climb on Colorado Springs' second-most famous peak has long excited the region's long-distance hikers and trail runners, who are uniquely equipped to make the 15- to 20-mile round trip required to visit the summit trail.
Unfortunately, cyclists won't be joining them - at least not yet.
Under a 2012 decision by the state park, mountain bikers and equestrians will be allowed only up to the halfway point of the Dixon Trail. State park managers cited concerns over public safety - fast cyclists, in other words - as well as fears that wheels and hooves would damage the trail on steep grades.
But the region's mountain bikers should pay close attention to plans in the state park, because the potential is tremendous.
Last March, for example, the city of Colorado Springs quietly purchased a $1 million property along Rock Creek on Cheyenne Mountain. Together with the Dixon Trail, that acquisition opens up the possibility of a new corridor over Cheyenne Mountain, potentially creating a back door to the state park accessible from Gold Camp Road. While such a development would take years to realize, connecting Cheyenne Mountain State Park to the Pike National Forest would multiply options for backcountry adventures.
The state park is also looking at other potential corridors that would allow cyclists onto the Top of the Mountain Trail, Martin said.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366