Off the road through North Cheyenne Cañon Park, a wobbly log bridge hides between trees, crossing a stream and meeting a short though meaningful path — the way to new possibilities in Colorado Springs’ recreation paradise.
It is the steep spur known as Daniels Pass. And it is the latest focus for city parks planners tasked with executing and fulfilling highly debated plans and promises of recent years.
That includes David Deitemeyer, who on a recent afternoon visited the trail for reconnaissance.
“See,” he said, nodding uphill at incised channels braiding the unofficial trail. “These are great examples of why this can’t exist.”
He was scouting a reroute, as called for in the canyon’s scrutinized 2018 master plan. Formal makeovers have been common to these historic, rugged foothills toured by a rising number of hikers, bikers, equestrians and motorists. Daniels Pass is set to be the next remodel for the sake of sustainability.
The trail running sharply downhill for about a half-mile could be elongated to a steady 2 miles, Deitemeyer said. The goal is to finish a design this fall and secure funding for construction next year.
A trailhead is to be staked, a 12-spot parking lot to be made, a bridge to be built in place of those wobbly logs. The trail is to be suitable for all user groups.
But for the group that has long frequented Daniels’ fast track of gnarly rocks and roots, the change won’t be easy.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it: That kind of downhill experience isn’t plentiful around here,” says Cory Sutela, local mountain bikers’ leading voice with nonprofit Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates. “It’s a hard kind of trail to create, and it never lasts forever.”
So riders have learned around here, most regrettably with the realignments of Jones Park in 2017 and more recently with the closure of the Sesame Canyon trail. They crave terrain with an undeveloped feel, and that seems increasingly reserved farther afield, beyond their city preserves.
“The fact is, undeveloped trails just don’t work in a city park system and a city with this size of population,” Sutela said. “What we have to build are trails that many, many, many people can use, because there are so many people here that want to.”
Understanding that and deeming the battle unworthy, Medicine Wheel came to accept the master plan’s decision on Daniels, made in conjunction with designating the canyon-bordering Chutes as the Springs’ first bike-only downhill trail. Their loss on Daniels might be the gain of others, who will have a flatter, more pleasant venture with signature views of the park’s promontories.
The trail will still reach the saddle between Mount Muscoco and Gold Camp Road. From here, travelers could embark into what the master plan calls the canyon’s “west parcel” — about 200 acres waiting to be realized since the controversial 2016 land swap with The Broadmoor. In return, the hotel gained Strawberry Fields.
Some will never forgive the city for the exchange, Susan Davies knows. But with the west parcel, “I think there will be some excitement,” said the executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. “Once we see some progress back in there, I think there will indeed be some excitement.”
From Daniels Pass’ saddle, Deitemeyer veered to bushwack to the top of Muscoco, along the opposite slopes of the mountain’s busy side. He eyed the alternate route envisioned here, different from the urban vistas on the front side, he said. “On this backside, you’re in the woods. You’re experiencing more of that natural setting, that solitude.”
From the summit, he looked across the coniferous valley to the future site of stacked loops. Mostly gone from the ground but seen in Manly Ormes’ maps of the early 1900s, the upper and lower Twilight trails will eventually be revived — potential gateways to the west parcel’s most curious domain.
In the lush forest below rests the remains of what’s known as the Green Settlement. “Blink and you miss it,” Deitemeyer said, stopping at the corner of a timber foundation. More striking homesteads are ahead.
Walls still stand with surprising chimneys, a roof collapsed on one cabin where bats have come to roost. Rusted scraps are scattered about, stirring the imagination to pioneer days here in the eerie silence of thick woods.
This is Greenwood Park, a multiyear research subject for local historian Eric Swab, drawn to such crumbled places in the mountains. “This is the most unique,” he said. Also, he said, “it’s been my frustration.”
He has names of people who settled in the area going back to the 1880s, but their lives here largely remain a mystery to him. That’s why he’s excited by the prospect of public access to Greenwood Park, a possibility with the easement agreed to in the 2016 swap. But due to safety risks and fears of history being damaged, officials wants to be careful in how they direct people there.
For now, the priority is stabilizing Daniels Pass, the starting-off point to adventure envisioned. Atop the saddle, the west parcel in view, Deitemeyer thought of a new destination.
“It’s relatively close to the roadway, but it’s a remote feeling, kind of a wilderness experience minutes from town. You’re up and over this ridge, out of the popular canyon, and just back in this expansive forest. Just a whole different experience.”