Bear Creek Watershed Trails to Reopen Next Week (June 20th)
Work Underway to Make it Happen
Frustrated west side trail users are get- ting their wish. Trails in the Bear Creek Watershed which closed after last September’s ﬂooding are to reopen Friday, June 20.
This means the Bear Creek Trail, Captain Jacks Trail, routes up to and through Jones Park, as well as trails south to Frosty Park in the foothills west of El Paso County’s Bear Creek Regional Park will all be open to the same uses as they were before last fall’s heavy rains. This reopens popular pathways for hikers, run- ners, mountain bikers and motorcyclists with the motorized access being parts of National Forest System Trails (NFST) 668, 720 and 701.
The announcement came from Allan Hahn, district ranger for the Pikes Peak Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Ser- vice, at a meeting of land managers and trail user groups Tuesday night at the Leon Young Service Center on Hancock Expressway.
“That’s the plan,” said Hahn after the meeting, noting that unexpected things could change the opening but right now everything is in place to meet that goal. “We will be back to where we were before last September’s rains,” said Hahn, referencing the emergency closure on Sept. 30 of last year to close NFST 665, 667, 668, 701 and 720 to all public activity. The Bear Creek Trail (NFST 666) was added to that closure notice in January.
U.S. Forest Service crews working in the watershed this week said they think the trails will be ready to open. Gretchen Dengler with a USFS operations crew said the worst damage she saw was on NFST 667 about a half mile below Jones Park. “Some of the ruts were three-and- a-half-feet deep,” said Dengler. But she said most of the damage wasn’t quite that bad.
She said her crew and two U.S. Forest Service fire crews did a lot of “filling in” to smooth out ruts and make the trails safer, especially for mountain bikers. They also worked to improve water bars for better drainage off of the trails but also to minimize the amount of sediment that might be washed into Bear Creek June 13, 2014 which harbors a threatened species of greenback cutthroat trout.
Hahn said his office had to get the go-ahead for the work and the reopening from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of the fish. He also said they had to wait to do the reassessments and repairs until after the snow had melted which wasn’t until last month.
Access to the Bear Creek Trail and Captain Jacks Trail can be off of High Drive which the City of Colorado Springs also closed to all users last fall. City park operations and development manager Kurt Schroeder said the city will move its new gate across High Drive from just above the now-open Palmer Trail to just past the Bear Creek Trailhead to allow access next week. He is also planning to open the Captain Jacks Trail- head off of Gold Camp Road and looking at how to direct users of the Captain Jacks Trail to stay on the trail and off the closed road where the trail inter- sects High Drive.
Schroeder said much work is still needed to fully open High Drive to any public use. He said the city already spent $45,000 to clean out culverts and capture sediment on the heavily damaged road, and he is still awaiting more than $350,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to begin further repairs as well as additional funds for mitigation work to make sure such damage doesn’t happen again when that next big rain comes. Schroeder said the need to run the plans by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Historic Preservation Office make the process particularly slow. He doesn’t expect the significant work to begin until next spring or to be completed till late next summer or even next fall.
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the status of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process currently underway to decide what future access can be allowed in the Bear Creek Watershed given federal requirements to protect the unique species of trout found there. Janelle Valladares of the U.S. Forest Service said the agency is still trying to incorporate suggestions people made during the public participation process earlier this year. She said they are hoping to be able to provide access to Louds Cabin and through Jones Park, among other priorities people requested.
One issue she mentioned is that users will have to police themselves if those areas are open. “If it is found people are reopening closed trails or other routes and harming the fish” then that access might have to be closed, she said. She said they are still on target for releasing a final proposal by early fall.
Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) explained CSU’s idea of want- ing to donate its land in Jones Park to the National Forest Foundation in order to transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service. El Paso County community services department director Tim Wolken said the county would also like to be in on those discussions because there is possible interest in maintaining local control of that land through county ownership.
Original article published June 13, 2014 by the Walter Publishing Company and written by Pattye Volz (http://www.waltpub.com/papers/ce/chey%206-13-14.pdf
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