As Jones Park’s foreseeable future is plotted, some want to right a perceived wrong in the popular hub of trails in Colorado Springs’ southwest mountains, while others hope for the status quo.
The 1,200-acre property, which came under El Paso County control in 2015, now is getting a master plan. The only certain priority is to protect the creature that made Jones Park a center of controversy in recent years.
“Take no action that may adversely impact the Greenback Cutthroat Trout,” read the first bullet point of a slideshow presented in a meeting last week.
When the fish was found in the Bear Creek watershed, an environmental review ensued, leading the U.S. Forest Service to close and realign treasured, multiuse paths, including the one known as Cap’n Jacks. The Forest Service’s Trails Unlimited crews finished the job last year after months of roundtable discussions between land managers and user groups.
Jeff Webb, the county’s contracted project lead with Altitude Land Consultants, mentioned at last week’s meeting Jones Park’s “great history of planning,” as those roundtable talks earned a national award.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to disagree,” said Bastien Donzé, expressing a sentiment widely shared among mountain bikers. “We were promised new Jones was going to be as nice as old Jones, and it is not as nice.”
Cap’n Jacks, formally called Trail 667, was “the best mountain biking trail in Colorado Springs” but has been replaced by something “very subpar,” Donzé said.
Webb replied that the master planning process is a time to talk about improvements, but: “We certainly don’t hope folks treat it as a chance to rehash history and relitigate anything.”
This is not the time for that, Jim Bensberg later agreed. “That was then, this is now,” said the president of the Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association. “The reality is, what we have is quite nice.”
Bensberg speaks for enthusiasts who had been barred from Jones Park for five years during the Forest Service’s review. Motorists prize the area for having the only singletrack open to them near city limits.
“Our hope is that not much changes,” Bensberg said of the master plan. “We just hope the status quo is preserved, and everyone can continue to get along as we have for the last 60 or 70 years.”
But sharing, or lack thereof, has been debated by Jones Park’s frequenters on foot and wheels. Could some conflict on some sections of the 5-mile network be resolved by mandating directional use? That question was posed at the meeting by Tony Boone, one of the West’s most highly regarded trail builders and a subcontractor on the master plan.
But cyclists and motorists alike sharply rebuked that notion, saying they would rather have more mileage than what Boone described as “optimized use.” Another issue he addressed was the emergence of user-created “rogue” trails.
“I find that’s often a sign that people are looking for trails that aren’t existing,” he said.
Boone, an outspoken critic of Trail Unlimited’s approach last year, backtracked on previous comments, saying he hadn’t seen Jones Park in 20 years. With some recon, he could recommend trail building — but not in places where sediment and human presence could harm the trout.
“I think you’ll see us at least take a hard look at additional trails in Jones Park, but it has to meet conservation values and guidelines,” said Tim Wolken, director of the county’s Community Services.
The master plan is to be completed in late spring and could be approved by county commissioners as early as April, Wolken said. That’s “fairly quickly for a master plan,” he recognized, reiterating that “dramatic” changes aren’t expected in the guiding document meant for the next five to seven years.
“It may come out with nobody 100 percent happy,” Boone said. “I think that’s the definition of compromise, right?”