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Mud in our eyes 

Good Dirt

Trail users in the Pikes Peak region may want to become familiar with these words: Varying levels of storm damage may exist.

You'll soon find them on signage posted along your favorite trails. The message is simple, says Scott Abbott, regional parks, trails and open space supervisor for the city of Colorado Springs: The familiar singletrack you can practically run or ride with your eyes closed may now include some big changes.

Thank Mother Nature. The sun may be shining today, but as of Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Airport had received 7.4 inches of rain — approaching half our annual rainfall — in the month of May alone. That kind of moisture in a short period of time tends to violently rearrange the crumbled granite beneath our feet.

Here is the bad news. The Pikes Peak Greenway Trail between Nevada Avenue and El Pomar Youth Sports Park, the Foothills Trail that skirts the eastern edge of Garden of the Gods, the Midland Trail near 25th Street, the Fountain Creek Regional Trail and Ute Pass Regional Trail are washed-out and closed. At Red Rock Canyon, Sand Canyon drainage failed and launched a wave that scrubbed some trails off the map and left tons of gravel and larger rocks scattered across Ridge Road and the parking lot near the entrance, forcing closure of the whole open space. And in an effort to protect the saturated sandstone on popular climbing routes, the city closed the Garden of the Gods and North Cheyenne Cañon to climbing throughout the Memorial Day weekend, and wasn't back open as of Tuesday morning.

And a little more bad news. There are no set dates to reopen the trails or Red Rock Canyon. The challenge comes in assessing all the damage, then making plans to repair it and finding the funds. Abbott manages a staff of six park rangers and two maintenance techs, and together they're responsible for 60 city properties, including 11,000 acres and nearly 400 miles of trails. They're covering ground as quickly as possible.

But there is reason to be encouraged.

"The majority of the system is open," Abbott says. "The places that we've closed, we've closed for big reasons."

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach was scheduled to ask City Council on Tuesday for $1 million in emergency funds to help fix trail damage. And trails in Palmer Park, Stratton Open Space and the Cheyenne Cañon area have largely remained intact. The Manitou Incline, Barr Trail and the interior trails in the Garden of the Gods are wet and disrupted in places, but have maintained their integrity.

Still, it's smart to be cautious.

"Trail runners may find themselves coming upon some dangerous changes in trails they know well," Abbott says. "My biggest concern is the upper level of cyclists who can reach higher speeds. Their favorite trail really can be changed significantly. We encourage people to be very cautious when they come back out."

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, says the damage to the southern Pikes Peak Greenway and Foothills Trail is bad, but much of the infrastructure installed after the flooding in 2013 has held.

"If there is a saving grace at all, it's that we have such an extensive trails system," she says. "You can still go to nearly all of the parks and open spaces and have a great experience."

With the return of the sun — fingers crossed — trails will dry out and runners, hikers and cyclists will return in large numbers. Moving forward, communication will be most important. You can find updated information at trailsandopenspaces.org, parks.coloradosprings.gov, and www.elpasoco.com.

If you're compelled to pick up a shovel and get to work, you'll have to wait before you can put your muscle toward repairing the latest damage. But there are other projects available — check out bit.ly/1GvLpCX.

"We have to work hard to manage these resources and the uses so that we can have a quality product for many years down the road," Abbott says. "We can't do that alone, so we constantly look for opportunities to get buy-in from the recreating public. And that means respecting rules and caring for the resource so that everyone has opportunity to enjoy it."

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