A lot of time, effort and money has been spent completing the Ring the Peak Trail around America’s Mountain, among Colorado’s outdoor priorities designated by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper in his “16 in ‘16” initiative.
The result? “Unexpected,” Chris Lieber said.
The nonprofit Trails and Open Space Coalition chose Lieber two years ago to lead a planning process with a $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. With TOSC, Lieber and his team at local land planning consultant N.E.S. Inc. were to plot a route on Pikes Peak’s southwest side — as the crow flies, a 7-mile swath where the gap remains in Ring the Peak’s 63-mile horseshoe.
Option A met unshakable resistance from leaders in Cripple Creek and Victor. Option B, crossing rugged terrain above the towns’ pristine watersheds, was shot down by government land managers to protect bighorn sheep.
The new plan, to be published on TOSC’s website next month, details a lower route.
It tours traffic corridors that advocates had hoped to avoid, and it incorporates a complicated tangle of federal and private land. The route would span 24 miles, plus a 15-mile ribbon around Cripple Creek and Victor — the so-called “community route” that leaders there longed for since talks intensified in 2016.
“This isn’t where I expected to end up,” said TOSC Executive Director Susan Davies, echoing Lieber.
“But I think to move to a place where stakeholders are excited about this route and communities are excited about this route, it’s a good thing,” Lieber said.
“Instead of pushing back constantly,” added Mike Rigney, project manager with TOSC.
Davies nodded. “We’re in a better place.”
Time will tell. But planners are encouraged by the route’s easy accessibility from Gold Camp Road and Teller County Road 81, edging the Newmont Mine. With agreements from the U.S. Forest and private landowners, the goal is to build trail away from the roads while paralleling them. One end has been drawn near the popular Pancake Rocks area, the other near the gate for the South Slope Recreation Area.
On one hand, the nearly 40 miles of trail proposed is not the corridor advocates wanted initially. In meetings, though, town representatives remained firm against a trail near their drinking water sources.
“We protect those as if they are our own children,” said Debra Downs, the Victor town administrator who has sat in meetings regarding the trail. (Cripple Creek’s representative at those meetings could not be reached.)
The town leaders have been adamant about preventing people from increasing fire risk near the waters. Also, they want to protect the fishing clubs that benefit from the solitude of the reservoirs; members historically have paid for the access, in recent years spelling $13,000 in revenue for Cripple Creek.
The leaders also argued that their only economic benefit from Ring the Peak would be from a segment directly through their towns. They got the “community route” they wanted, and “we certainly will help” make it a reality, Downs said.
“I think everybody can get on board with this,” she said. “Of course, it’s a long-term vision.”
A long-term vision that will require a lot more time, effort and money. But Davies said she’s confident that funding will come, that the former governor’s vision still resonates.
“I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy,” she said. “Yeah, we’re years away, no denying. But at least we have a way forward.”