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Of trout and trails: One cyclist's take on the Bear Creek Watershed plans

By Cameron Chambers
PikesPeakSports.us

Colorado Springs outdoor enthusiasts have been in a state of limbo since the September floods led to the closure of many trails in Cheyenne Canyon. It has been challenging to gather facts on the closure and understand the balance of what has been closed due to flood damage and what is related to the Greenback Cutthroat Trout in the area.

The Tuesday night attendance of the open house at the Leon Young Center and the passionate discussion taking place spoke to the frustrations of the public and its desire to be a part of a solution.

The open house is a required step in the process that Pikes Peak National Forest Service has entered into with the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA). The reason for entering into this process is the lawsuit brought against the Forest Service by the Arizona based nonprofit, The Center for Biological Diversity. The group holds that the trails and users of the trails negatively impact the greenback cutthroat trout habitat in the Bear Creek Watershed. The open house step in the process gives local citizens the chance to see what is taking place in our back yard and hear about the NEPA process and possible directions in the future of the Bear Creek Watershed. 

Currently there are two plans being considered for trail closure and reroutes. Attendees of the open house were able to see maps of  Alternative B and Alternative C and speak with Forest Service representatives about these Alternative scenarios.

Map of proposed  changes (alternative B) to Bear Creek Watershed Tr... ** Map showing alternative C

In both B and C, the trails 701, 720, 667, and 668 are set for decommissioning. The representative I spoke with told me this means that they will be made impassable. In their stead, a new trial will be built that follows a similar direction to 668 but works its way further east, over a ridgeline that removes the trail from any area that drains into the Bear Creek Watershed. The new trail would come across the upper section of 622 (7 bridges) and tie back into 667 after the trail has left the creek side. The portion of 667 after it departs from the creek, commonly known as Upper Jacks and Captain Jacks is not set for decommission on either Alternative B or C. This new trail to be built would be a multi-use trail for hikers, cyclists, and motorcycles.

There is a key difference in the two Alternatives. With B, Trail 666 would stay as an active system trail. A new trail would be built off the top of Mt Buckhorn that descends back down to catch onto 666 at a lower point than the current junction off 667 and 666. With Alternative C, the entirety of Trail 666 would be decommissioned and no new trail would be built in that area. As to what factors will be used to make this decision I was told that, “NEPA will analyze the sediment contribution of Trail 666 as part of their process.”

The NEPA process is now scheduled to accept the comments of the public that attended the open house. We were given a comment sheet that needs to be returned by March 27. Based on the integration of the public comments there will be a finalization of Alternatives B and C. This will take place through the spring and early summer 2014. There will be a final decision reached by the NEPA team and then we enter a 45-day objection period. The decision is currently expected to be completed by late summer 2014.

It does appear that High Drive will again open in some form. Various scenarios have been considered from paving to decommissioning. Although a further road assessment is now scheduled, it appears that at this time the momentum is to open the road again to hikers and cyclists. High Drive will not open again to vehicle traffic.

Popular trails Buckhorn and Palmer are in a similar state of flux. Neither trail is recognized by the Forest Service as a system trail. There is movement to change that and integrate them as Forest Service recognized trails but this is not set one way or another. Currently, Palmer Trail remains closed because of flood damage. Some of the Palmer Trail is on city property and some is on Forest Service, which makes it harder yet to judge the future of the closure.

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I feel like the only ones who truly care about the environment are the runners and cyclists ,,,why should we be cut off from our passions....

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