Long days of scouting and hoofing Colorado Springs’ southwest mountains and more hours spent measuring and drawing lines on a map have reignited Jones Park’s outdoor enthusiasts.
Pessimism set in over recent years as the U.S. Forest Service realigned trails away from the Bear Creek watershed for the sake of a greenback cutthroat trout habitat. That included Trail 667, colloquially known as Cap’n Jacks, formerly treasured by mountain bikers.
Now comes “a silver lining,” said Cory Sutela, president of Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates.
“We’ll never get back what we had,” he said. “But they’re working hard to make more sustainable, fun recreation options.”
They, Jeff Webb and his small team at Altitude Land Consultants, have been contracted by El Paso County to make a master plan for Jones Park, a first-of-its-kind guiding document for the 1,200-acre property conveyed to local managers.
Talks that started last fall have led to this: 8 miles of new, ambitious trail on a preliminary blueprint.
It’s the result of public feedback that heavily centered on recreation — a vast majority of nearly 900 survey respondents said trails should be a top priority, while the trout was of low consideration. But Webb said the fish was paramount in brainstorming the trails. None, he said, would be finalized if deemed a threat.
For now, planners seem poised to make Jones Park a lab for an emerging though controversial theory in Colorado’s crowding backcountry: Build trails to conserve.
“Recreation and conservation and preservation, on its face it seems those could be in conflict with one another,” Webb said. “I really think if we can change that mindset a little bit, each of these can be complementary and supportive. By sustainable management of recreation, we can further the goals of conservation and preservation.”
On the blueprint, he pointed to trails drawn to replace others — “social" or "rogue" trails inviting erosion. One would switchback its way to Kineo Mountain, replacing steep summiting paths trampled over time. Another would also branch off Trail 667, twisting and turning its way to Seven Bridges, where a fall line has formed. While land managers have never authorized high-reaching routes from Loud’s Cabin, Webb’s team has laid out a path there going to a scenic point near 9,900 feet.
He calls the approach “proactive,” creating defined paths rather than waiting for more social trails. “With good planning, good design, good alignments, you can really go a long way to mitigate risks.”
To Allyn Kratz, that sounds like “more of a marketing technique.” He’s had a seat at the master plan talking tables, representing Trout Unlimited.
“The process seems to be oriented toward creating trails rather than maintaining the ones we have,” he said.
But in terms of the trout’s security, Kratz sees no threat from most of the paths envisioned. He does, however, take issue with the boldest idea. A 5-mile link would create a widely desired loop, but Kratz sees a portion too close to the watershed. He’s OK with the lower half, which looks most enticing to cyclists.
The flowy downhill could be an alternate to the Forest Service’s realignment, constructed by the agency’s hired hands in 2017. Kratz was among critics of the trail before it was built. And he remains one, seeing wear and tear already and a big risk of washout and sediment pile-up in the trout’s waters.
Kratz gets Webb’s point of professionals building trails before everyday users. “Theoretically, they would do a better job. But I can’t say past history in the last two years has proven me correct on that assumption.”
Also needing convincing is Jim Bensberg, an advocate for motorcyclists who consider Jones Park one of their only great escapes within city limits. Almost all of the new trails proposed are nonmotorized.
“We believe what’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander,” Bensberg said. “We all ought to be able to share.”
The Palmer Land Trust holds a conservation easement on Jones Park, and the master plan would have to be OK’d by that nonprofit as well as county commissioners and members of the Colorado Springs Parks Advisory Board. Approval is still several months out, said Tim Wolken, who’s overseeing the plan for the county.
The trail concepts have been shown to the Forest Service, but players involved declined to comment for this story.
“They’ve expressed support for some of this and concern about other parts,” Webb said. “But they are first to recognize that this is a county-owned and -managed property.”
Money has not been designated for trail construction, but funding could be explored, Wolken said.
“In regards to trail maintenance,” he said, “our goal is to have a respective trail constructed to a high level initially, which in turn reduces ongoing maintenance.”