While the battered, lower stretch of Pikes Peak’s summiting path continues to demand money for reoccurring maintenance, some proponents say it’s time for a new solution.
Manitou Springs City Councilman Steve Bremner, a 20-year regular of Barr Trail and president of Friends of the Peak, said he and others with the stewarding nonprofit would like to see a reroute of the approximately first 2 miles.
That’s the portion that has regularly needed work since the official, public opening of the Manitou Incline in 2013. Many of the Incline’s 300,000-plus annual hikers have descended via that stretch of Barr, combining with traditional runners.
“There’s a lot of people pounding that trail, but the other thing is water,” Bremner said, explaining how runoff doesn’t properly exit the hillside, instead creating damaging, hazardous gullies along the trail. “If you’re trying to quantify which is worse, it’s pretty difficult. But I would say it’s the water on the trail, which is why we need to put together a redesign.”
Bremner has posed the idea to Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the local nonprofit that for years has been funded to tend to the trail every summer. RMFI’s executive director, Jennifer Peterson, said her organization would be interested in a reroute — “but only if all parties determined this is the best path forward.”
The majority of land in question belongs to the city of Colorado Springs, but ultimate authority falls on the U.S. Forest Service, as the trail is within the federal system. A forest spokesperson in a statement told The Gazette such a reroute would require lengthy reviews.
David Deitemeyer, the Springs parks department’s senior landscape architect, said the city’s first priority is finishing Incline return trails on the northern mountainside, opposite of Barr Trail. Two were finished last year — one “bailout” about halfway up the Incline and one lower — with an uppermost third in the works with land-owning Forest Service.
Asked whether the alternate routes have achieved their intended purpose to alleviate pressure on Barr, Deitemeyer said “it may be a little too premature to know.”
He agreed with Bremner that lower Barr “is a little too steep to be sustainable,” with “compounding” issues from traffic and users cutting switchbacks — running down steep terrain and worsening erosion. But Deitemeyer sounded hesitant to commit to a new trail.
“If you reroute it, you’re running the risk of disturbing more of that natural hillside, and that can be a further detriment,” he said.
Deitemeyer commended RMFI’s maintenance over the years.
“If that process continued, I think we’d get to a point where we’d reach better equilibrium with the amount of use and still protecting that trail infrastructure,” he said. “It just takes time and money.”
In recent years, RMFI has collected $40,000 to commit to the trail, with about half of that coming from the city of Manitou Springs; a multi-agency agreement dictates the city supporting maintenance with fees from Barr Trail’s parking lot. Other nonprofits, such as Incline Friends, have written checks. Recently, the city of Colorado Springs’ Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax committee — overseeing revenues from those taxes to be returned to tourism and capital improvements — earmarked $15,000 to RMFI for Barr Trail work.
Peterson said paying full-time staff and youth crews over several weeks “adds up.” Volunteers are “engaged,” she said, “but volunteers can’t be the primary workforce with the super technical work this requires.”
The annual money for RMFI “is money well spent to keep the trail viable,” Bremner said. Nonetheless, he has asked fellow Manitou city council members to consider money for researching a reroute.
“The design. That’s the main obstruction of why we have to keep on going back and maintaining it,” Bremner said.
The switchbacking design has been debated.
Longtime hiker and historian Eric Swab suspects Barr’s lower portion is a revision of Fred Barr’s construction 100 years ago; documents suggest the Forest Service might have built the stretch soon after World War II.
“It was designed well,” Swab said. “It’s just been over-used and abused, and there’s a lot of switchback cutting. It is loved to death, as we say.”
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