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Rider in Residence: The great debate over Colorado Springs trails

July 14, 2016 Updated: July 14, 2016 at 10:20 am
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If you find yourself debating the boundaries of Cap'n Jacks and Buckhorn trails, you're in good company. Even the mapmakers can't agree.

Both skirt the ridge between Bear Creek and North Cheyenne canyons - the scree-filled birthplace of Colorado Springs' 30-year-old mountain biking scene - and have long gone by informal names.

What you call Jacks might depend on the company you keep, your mode of travel and what maps you consult.

The Gazette historically has sided with the Pikes Peak Atlas, which shows Cap'n Jacks starting at the junction of Bear Creek Trail (666) and Jones Park Trail (667) above Josephine Falls and ending at the bottom of Trail 665, also known as Penrose Multiuse Trail.

The U.S. Forest Service appears to have adopted a similar stance in planning documents related to the Bear Creek Watershed Reclamation Project. It defines Mount Buckhorn Trail as a roughly 1.5-mile connector between Seven Bridges trailhead and a saddle on Buckhorn where it meets 667. (This connector - built in the mid-1970s and once known as the Bradbury cutoff - will be absorbed into the agency's trail network as part of changes expected to be complete by fall.)

To some devotees, the above naming scheme is heresy.

After June's Rider in Residence column, which focused on the soon-to-be official cutoff trail, The Gazette heard from a couple of readers left scratching their heads.

One email came from Stan Brunk, son of the late local historian Ivan Brunk, whose "Shattered Dreams on Pikes Peak" has become a standard resource on Jones Park and the 1873 road to Pikes Peak's summit, which probably followed trails 666 and 667.

"I have hiked for over 50 years on the east side of Pikes Peak," Brunk wrote in the email. "For years when one reached the top of High Drive, to the east was the Cap'n Jacks Trail and to the west was the Buckhorn Trail."

Springs native Steve Matthiesen, a longtime dirt biker who helped realign the lower portion of Cap'n Jacks in the mid- to late-1970s, agreed.

"For years the clarification has been that the lower trail is the Cap'n Jacks trail and the upper portion from Cap'n Jacks to Jones Park . was known as the Buckhorn Trail or the Jones Park Trail."

The column generated another lead, however, that adds weight to the newspaper's position on Cap'n Jacks.

A tip from a reader led the way to Dave Overlin, a retired Forest Service employee who worked in Pike Ranger District from 1969 to 1984.

Overlin, 71, who later worked at Fountain Valley School, said he laid out the cutoff trail from Seven Bridges to the Mount Buckhorn saddle with his wife, Linda, and supervised four dozen Youth Conservation Corps members, ages 15-18, who built the trail over a two-month period in the mid-1970s.

"I liked to tell the parents, 'By the end of the first week, if your kid doesn't have a row of blisters across their hands, I'm not doing my job,'" he said.

It was a Forest Service initiative, Overlin said, that used Forest Service tools and a plan authorized by the then-Pike District ranger, who signed off on the trail corridor.

The cutoff didn't have a name, but Overlin wasn't confused about where it led.

"It was a shortcut to Cap'n Jacks," Overlin said by phone from his home in Beulah, southwest of Pueblo.

The Overlins' account of the construction jibes with that of pioneering mountain bike builder Douglas Bradbury, who moved into a cabin in the Canyonwoods subdivision in North Cheyenne Canon Park in 1975 and remembers seeing trail crews above his house soon thereafter. He recalls a high degree of organization and workers wielding government-issued tools.

Other projects accomplished by the Youth Conservation Corps include installing bridges on Seven Bridges Trail, building the picnic areas and a trail around Rampart Reservoir, and building the trail to Pancake Rocks on Pikes Peak's western flank.

In defending their positions on naming conventions, Matthiesen and Brunk point to earlier editions of the Pikes Peak Atlas, from 1959 and 1969, which refer to 667 west of the High Drive summit as "Palmer's Buckhorn Trail."

The conflict between those editions and the 2009 version suggests disagreement between the atlas's originator, the late Colorado College professor and trail historian Robert Ormes, and its current custodian, cartographer Robert Houdek.

In an email, Houdek seemed to chalk up the difference to a question of historical change and evolving usage.

"Ormes was the first to call out many things as heard and named by his hiking colleagues," Houdek wrote. "Shall those names hold for all time?"

It's an interesting dilemma because adherents of the atlas's earlier editions have made headway in broadcasting their version of what constitutes Jacks - so if enough people adopt their terminology, it is likely to hold.

Maps add to the confusion

Other maps do little to clarify the dispute. During a visit to Mountain Chalet in downtown Colorado Springs, The Gazette examined five more trail maps that apply various names to the same trails.

The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographical Map refers to Trail 665 as "Lower Captain Jacks," implying the existence of an Upper Cap'n Jacks. Yet the map refers to the trail west of the High Drive summit as Jones Park Trail, with no mention of Upper Cap'n Jacks or Buckhorn.

The fourth edition of the Sky Terrain Trail Maps refers to Trail 665 as "Penrose aka Captain Jacks" but makes no reference to Buckhorn.

Only the MacVan Trail Map & Guide lists the portion of 667 west of the High Drive summit as Mount Buckhorn Trail. Meanwhile, the Pocket Pals trail map for the North Cheyenne Canon Area adopts the same designations used in the latest edition of the Pikes Peak Atlas, identifying Cap'n Jacks' starting place as the bridge over Bear Creek at the 666/667 junction.

Advocates for the position that Mount Buckhorn Trail applies to 667 between the High Drive summit and the bridge on Bear Creek must solve a conundrum: What do they call the cutoff trail that leads to the Buckhorn saddle? Do they reach the three-way intersection and refer to all directions as Buckhorn Trail?

The question is in no way meant to be snide, but it points to a problem in nomenclature, just as conflicting trail maps point to a greater level of disagreement than either side generally is willing to acknowledge.

Houdek, who has poured countless hours into field work and historical research in producing his standard- setting atlas, handles the disagreement with a light touch. He even suggests names for the two camps: Lumpers and Splitters.

"We are in an age of splitting, so shall we name discrete segments of one great trail?" he asked. "Sure, why not? That's basically what Ring the Peak is not, nor probably will ever be: links of individually named trails."

As for the Overlins, they didn't have dirt bikers or mountain bikers in mind when they used ribbons and a clinometer to pace out the cutoff to the Buckhorn saddle. At the time, that portion of Gold Camp Road was open to vehicle traffic and Overlin saw a need for a new loop where people could park and use the new trail to climb to Cap'n Jacks/Jones Park Trail and return via Seven Bridges.

"Now that the road is closed, it doesn't make as much sense as a loop, but it did then," Overlin said.

He shows pride in pointing out how the soon-to-be recognized trail has held up with minimal maintenance.

"It's a very, very well built trail," Overlin said.

On that issue, at least, there is little disagreement.

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Benzel covers courts for The Gazette. Read his mountain biking column on the second Thursday of each month in Out There. Send story ideas and tips to lance.benzel@gazette.com

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