PIKES PEAK - A small but gut-curling explosion atop Pikes Peak on Monday morning marked the start of construction for the mountain's much-anticipated Summit House.
The $50 million, 38,000-square-foot Summit House is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020.
Officials from Colorado Springs, El Paso County, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Forest Service and the Southern Ute Nation gathered on the southeast portion of the summit and gave thanks for the collaborative effort. The Summit House represents a new era for the region, its people and the hundreds of thousands who visit every year, they said.
The Summit House "will be a worthy crown for America's Mountain," said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
The groundbreaking has been many years in the making, and city Parks Director Karen Palus said she was thrilled to see that work come to fruition.
And while the single blast was purely ceremonial, many more explosions soon will follow, said Jack Glavan, manager of the Pikes Peak America's Mountain enterprise. Crews will trigger those explosions in early morning or late evening to carve space for the new center but not interfere with mountain tourism, Glavan said.
Witnessing the groundbreaking and explosion was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Jill Gaebler, City Council president pro tem.
The new Summit House will sit on the peak's south side. Its predecessor, built in 1963, will remain open until the new building is ready for business.
But during construction, parking on the mountaintop will be limited, so a mandatory shuttle service began this month for visitors. Ellen Williams, a tourist from Louisiana, happened to be on the peak for the groundbreaking, which she said was an unexpected sight.
She said the shuttle ride up was convenient and allowed her to enjoy the views on the ascending switchbacks.
In a few years, Williams said, she might revisit Pikes Peak to see the finished work.
But Lewis Barnett, a visitor from Texas, said this might be his one and only trip to the top of the mountain.
Squinting in the sun, Barnett smiled - his dog, Oliver, at his side - and watched crews prepare for the groundbreaking. His wife was uncomfortable with the altitude, he said, and was off praying the rosary somewhere.
"It's a wild ride up," Barnett said. "Exciting, scary, beautiful."
The mandatory shuttle service will be in place only during the mountain's busiest season. It will end in mid-September and restart next May, Glavan has said. The shuttle does not cost extra.