Colorado Springs parks officials have been honing in on trails considered troublesome, stoking angst among outdoorgoers who fear losing more favorite routes.
They are often called "social" or "rogue" trails. Or "illegal" trails, in a recent post by the city that says they have "steadily increased over the last several years." This was in announcing a partnership with El Paso County and the U.S. Forest Service "to raise awareness on this issue."
That included mention of 60 miles of illegal trails counted in Red Rock Canyon Open Space — a count widely questioned by commenters on social media. However unclear that tally in the park's roughly 1.25 square miles, the message was clear: The city would continue to concentrate efforts in the popular retreat that has been subject to trail closures and reroutes deemed more environmentally-friendly.
The trend was the focus of those critical commenters, many of them mountain bikers lamenting the loss of certain experiences. One described it "a pretty frustrating time for our trail network." Others said the trails represented the city's failure to provide them and accused officials for not taking hints while they go about fencing, scrubbing, seeding and covering with brush.
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Scott Abbott, the city's regional parks, trails and open space manager, recognized the challenge of "getting the public on our side."
"Do the miles and miles of undesignated trail show (success)? Probably not," he said.
Land managers continue to make their points — that the trails cause damaging erosion, interrupt wildlife corridors or pose other management problems — while some constituents remain unconvinced and feel ignored by the city.
Representing mountain bikers with Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, Cory Sutela has seen an "imbalance."
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"It's hard for me to get on board with comments I hear from some riders that say, We're building rogue trails because land managers are closing trails," Sutela said. "Some in the riding community are inflaming it, and I think responses from land managers in many cases inflames it."
He pointed to one recent case near Blodgett Peak Open Space, where rangers have reported trails carved by tools. Since formerly private property entered the city's trust, those trails have been closed.
"Instead of trying to find a constructive solution, they're just randomly closing trails outside of a master plan process," Sutela said.
Complete after workshops and other public meetings, master plans are said to direct trail decisions. The 2020 master plan for Austin Bluffs Open Space, for example, is currently directing work to close 4 miles of trail. That plan calls for closing nearly half of the network identified on the property around Pulpit Rock while also calling for new trails, including a downhill-only one for mountain bikes.
As has been the case from changes elsewhere, officials foresee hard feelings at Austin Bluffs Open Space. It's the case at Red Rock Canyon Open Space, where work is said to be based on a 2013 master plan.
"It's human nature for people's interest to always change," Abbott said. "But if we allow this continuation of people to go wherever they want, then we really aren't doing our job of protecting these places."
It's a job recently being done by additional staff, he said. Some ask: Could the job be done at a far lesser cost in collaboration with volunteers? Could there be more discussion?
Yes, volunteers are counted on, Abbott said. Beyond that, master planning "is the time for input and discussion, and then we have to move on and implement the plan," he said. "If we have to have discussion and open dialogue on every trail we have to start closing, we're not going to get anywhere. It's going to take even longer to catch up with projects that need to be done to protect our properties."
It underscores tension within Friends of Red Rock Canyon, which in a recent newsletter considered the relationship with the city "seriously damaged." This was after the board reluctantly signed a working agreement that members viewed as "incomplete," the newsletter said, with "no provision requiring the parks staff to notify us when significant trail layouts and realignments are being proposed and to seek our input and feedback."
Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies said she understands both sides of the issue. She thought of the county's proposed master plan for Homestead Ranch Regional Park. It suggests "recognizing some of the park's singletrack trails as legitimate trails."
"I can appreciate it when a land owner steps back and looks at it and says, 'Yeah, this trail makes sense,'" Davies said. "But most of those trails do not make sense."
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