An idea to place an overnight gate over a popular road for recreation in Colorado Springs is being questioned by public land advocates — including the head of the local U.S. Forest Service office.
"Any time there's a proposal to impede the public's access to the national forest, that always concerns me," Pikes Peak District Ranger Carl Bauer told The Gazette. "Even if it is limited in scope, any limitation on that concerns me."
That would be the effect of blocking Old Stage Road sometime after dark, as the city of Colorado Springs has proposed.
It was among proposals listed in a meeting last week with residents along the road, who have long feared gunshots and risks of fire in the surrounding Pike National Forest. Illegal camping, dumping and out-of-control driving have been other concerns.
The gate — an idea born from talks with El Paso County law enforcement, according to city traffic engineer Todd Frisbie — would cover city property, around where pavement meets the dirt stretching into Forest Service land and west to Teller County.
"We recognize the concerns of the citizens there of course," said Bauer, who counts two officers to patrol the forest's 1.1 million acres. "If I had more money and more officers, we could spend more time there. If I could give the county more money to spend on having some of their officers spend more time there, that'd be ideal as well.
"But as far as a gate, that concerns me. That's a main road. I want to figure out a better way of solving this problem."
Several residents spoke in favor of the gate at last week's meeting. One spoke of rampant shooting and bullets flying over her head in one instance. "On any holiday weekend, we brace ourselves," she said.
Another attendee living in North Cheyenne Cañon said the city gating that park was "the smartest thing I have seen" at preventing criminal activity. The city bars other preserves overnight, including Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park.
Frisbie said the prospective gate at Old Stage Road would be wired with a code or scanner to allow residents and emergency vehicles entry around the clock. The gate would automatically open for vehicles exiting west from the other side, he said.
"The advantage of a gate, obviously you have the initial up-front cost, but really you don't need a sustained funding source other than some minor maintenance," Frisbie said.
Ideally that would be minor, he noted. "It is a mechanical device," he said.
From past experiences, such a gate has been a "nightmare to manage," Bauer said. In an emergency, "the power goes off, the batteries go dead, what do you do?" he said.
Also, he said: "All somebody had to do was, in this case, be on the west side of the gate when the gate was closed to open it up to their friends. And then it sort of became this exclusive use of the national forest."
Some local advocates see the gate as breaking principle and precedent. That includes Bob Falcone, who chairs the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks working committee.
While acknowledging Old Stage Road as a "no man's land for law enforcement," Falcone told his podcast listeners: "I am not a fan anytime I hear we're going to close more and more public lands."
And with a gate before the national forest, "it appears the city is flexing their muscle where they may not really have the right to do so," he added. "I don't like that at all."
Frisbie said he saw the city's role as "facilitator" on the issue. "A facilitator of public comment and discussion about issues and concerns and how best to address those issues and concerns," he said.
He said there was no timeline on any decision. The city has yet to announce another public meeting.
A survey is posted online: coloradosprings.gov/OldStageRoad.