A shared trail could make a hater out of anyone.
Maybe it's hikers standing dumbly in the path of your mountain bike, or mountain bikers side-swiping your pooch. And those horse people leave behind some smelly souvenirs.
But if there's one group of recreationalists that seems most despised by other outdoorsmen the dust, the noise, the speed! it's the people using motors.
Until Monday, motorists weren't officially allowed on any city trails. Now, at the request of City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services director Paul Butcher, Captain Jack's Trail is open to dirt bikers.
The plan was presented to City Council on Monday. Discussion was minimal, with Mayor Lionel Rivera commenting that the plan was "a great idea." That leaves the decision up to Butcher, who faces just one other obstacle: The trail has long crossed a citizen's property. But Butcher doesn't expect much of a battle, saying the property owner doesn't oppose the trail (or its mixed traffic), and the city is willing to work with him.
Butcher says the move is a small step in the direction of fairness. Everyone, he says, deserves a place to recreate, yet there are very few local opportunities for off-road motorists.
"We're building a world-class skateboard park," he says, alluding to the $1 million site at Memorial Park. "We ought to also be looking at some areas to accommodate some other uses."
No other alternative
Technically, the new designation of Captain Jack's will change little. The narrow, winding singletrack that stretches from North Cheyenne Cañon Park into Pike National Forest has long been popular for both motorized and non-motorized recreation. Butcher says he's just making it official.
The change is, however, timely. Tim Wolken, director of the El Paso County Parks Department, has noted recreational opportunities for OHV users are declining in the Pueblo area and Pike National Forest even as the number of Coloradans buying OHV permits is increasing 14 percent a year. El Paso County already has the highest number of OHV permits of any county in the state; Wolken reported more than 14,000 last May. Yet no Springs or El Paso County parks had allowed OHV use.
The idea of an OHV park has long sparkled in the eyes of local dirt bikers, and the disappointment was palpable when the county opted not to approve a park for motorists on the eastern property known as Corral Bluffs earlier this year. The area was seen by many as too environmentally delicate for motorized use, especially because it contained fossils. Noise was also a concern.
For people like John Harris, dirt biker and president of the Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, the Corral Bluffs saga was a "slap in the face." He says it's high time that the city or county provide an OHV park, especially since the OHV community has pledged millions to pay for the property, and expressed willingness to put in the volunteer hours needed to build and maintain trails.
Wolken says a citizens advisory board will soon begin seeking an appropriate spot for an OHV park, probably 500 to 1,000 acres with varied topography. Butcher and Harris agree the park is the answer.
"Unfortunately for the motorized community, I don't foresee many other opportunities for motorized access to city parks," Harris states. "Issues with noise, erosion and user conflict generally aren't compatible with the rest of the city park system."
A plan to create an OHV park has some surprising allies. Lee Milner, a fierce opponent of the Corral Bluffs plan, has no problem with the Captain Jack's designation and "in the right spot, [an OHV park] could be fine. It's just Corral Bluffs was obviously the wrong spot."
When dirt-bikers talk about how they would care for an OHV park, they point to the stewardship and courtesy they've practiced on Captain Jack's. Harris says his group has put in grueling volunteer hours maintaining the Captain Jack's system. It also requests grants from a state off-highway vehicle grant fund (which gets its cash by charging recreational motorists a $25.25 annual fee), and then reinvests the money in the trails.
Harris adds that when riding, he takes curves slowly, yields, and equips his bike with quieter pipes and a "spark arrestor," the latter to prevent forest fires. He encourages his 130 or so club members to do the same. (A recent trip to Captain Jack's seemed to confirm Harris' claims. Two dirt bikers passing by were polite, slowing down to pass. And they were quickly out of earshot.)
"The off-road motorcycle community isn't the bad guys that everyone makes us out to be," Harris says via e-mail.
Its efforts do not seem to have gone unnoticed. The plan to allow dirt bikes on Captain Jack's even earned support of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.
"We don't have any opposition to it," executive director Dan Cleveland says. "I think it was the right thing to do."
During a public comment period, only six people contacted Butcher to recommend against allowing motorcycles on the trail, compared to 128 supporting the idea. And Butcher says that as far as he can tell, the dirt bikers get along with others.
"In the 14 years I've been director, I never once got a complaint about a motorcycle on Captain Jack's," he says.