A decade-long debate over the future of Gold Camp Road is heating up again.
For the past several years, groups who want to either reopen the historic road to Cripple Creek to vehicles or keep it in its current no-vehicles-allowed state have been at loggerheads.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently conducting a public review process and environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine whether or not to reopen the road to auto traffic.
Originally the site of the rail line that brought Colorado Springs prospectors to the lucrative gold fields of Cripple Creek, the road was used as a seasonal highway until one of its three tunnels collapsed in 1988. Since then, an 8.5-mile stretch of the road, which runs along the grade of a former railroad and originates from north Cheyenne Cayon on the west side of Colorado Springs, has been closed to cars.
Instead, the stretch of road has become a unique gem for a spectrum of recreational users, ranging from hikers and equestrians to motorcyclists.
According to Pike National Forest's Frank Landis, the Forest Service intends to consider all options during the current process. Whether that means restoring the collapsed tunnel for historical purposes or opening the road to cars remains to be seen. Ultimately, Landis said, the decision on Gold Camp's status will be the Forest Service's alone.
Landis and organizations opposed to opening the trail for car traffic both agree on what makes Gold Camp unique.
"It has a very gentle grade," said Dan Cleveland of the Trails and Open Space Coalition of El Paso County, a nonprofit advocacy group. "It's a very easy way for people to get to the mountains. When I was there [recently] there was a guy on crutches hiking."
Joleen Thompson of Champions of Gold Camp Trail, which formed to preserve the trail for recreation use, fears that allowing auto traffic will effectively kill it for recreational use, due to its narrow width.
"It simply becomes another mountain road open to cars. It's just not safe," Thompson said, also noting that increased recreation use has helped keep the road relatively crime free.
Advocates for opening the trail to cars include tourism boosters in Teller County who formed the nonprofit advocacy group, Short Line to Cripple Creek. Ruth Zirkle-Zalewski of Short Line said that because the road is listed on the national register of historic places as a road, it should be accessible to all users, including people in cars.
"It should be open to all to enjoy its views, its history and [its] significance to the 1890s gold rush that created it in the first place," Zirkle-Zalewski said.
In good faith
Four years ago, the Forest Service tried to fund a project that would restore the tunnel and reopen the trail to auto use, but was sued by a coalition of recreational groups, including Trails and Open Space.
According to Cleveland, the Forest Service at the time tried to skirt a public process and the EIS, which were required by law. Cleveland said he trusts the Forest Service will complete its current public process in good faith.
The total cost of the plan and EIS is estimated to be $250,000. The funding was appropriated through congressional avenues by Rep. Joel Hefley.
The Forest Service will host a public meeting on July 7 at Cheyenne Mountain High School to accept further public input. A draft of the plan and EIS is scheduled to be completed in October, when a second stage for public review will begin.
-- John Dicker