Cog Railway closure could impact recreation on Pikes Peak 

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
In an unexpected turn earlier this week, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which had stopped operating for the winter for maintenance work, announced that it would not resume operations in the spring, and may not operate for several  years — or ever again.

Other than a yet-to-be-seen impact to local tourism, both in visitor numbers and revenue, the closure of the railroad may also have an affect on outdoor recreation on the peak.

The Cog is more than just a tourist attraction; it's a transportation system. Many Barr Trail hikers  use the Cog as the return leg of their hike to the summit, saving their knees from the rigors of a long downhill trek. Those hikers also invariably stop at Barr Camp, the approximate halfway point on the trail. Whether stopping in to take a break, chat with the caretakers or spend the night on the way up or back down, Barr Camp is an essential waypoint — often life-saving — for people venturing on the trail, and the Cog has been a vital part of the camp's operations.

According to Barr Camp board member Ann Nichols, the Cog has delivered supplies to the camp — for free — for years, but now there's uncertainty about the future of that service. This past winter, when the Cog wasn't running passenger trains, supplies continued to be delivered via the "work train," according to Nichols. She says neither the Camp's board of directors nor the caretakers were made aware of the railway's decision to cease operation until it was publicly announced, and as of this writing, they still aren't sure if supply runs to the camp will continue. The board, Nichols says, is in the process of exploring other options of getting supplies to the camp, but with hiking being the only other way to the camp, the options are limited.

Other groups utilize the Cog as well. Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates relied on the Cog to deliver people and equipment while they were building the Lake Moraine Trail (formerly the "missing link" trail) last year. According to MWTA president Cory Sutela, the Cog provided a valuable service for free, helping to make the long-awaited trail a reality. With a few more months of work to be done on the trail before it's completed, Sutela says that the possibility of not having the Cog available will have an impact on getting the project done, but he isn't sure to what extent. At the least, he anticipates that his organization may have to rely more on contractors to complete the trail than previously planned. Still, he says the trail is expected to be completed later this year.

Events such as the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon also utilizes the Cog — again at no cost — to shuttle volunteers and supplies to an aid station set up at Barr Camp. It's not known how the shutdown will impact these two events.

The Cog's closure is not expected to significantly affect rescues on Pikes Peak. El Paso County Search and Rescue Operations Director Patrick Kersher says EPSAR has enjoyed a very good relationship with the railroad, having used the train to get people with minor injuries down the mountain, and that the Cog ceasing operations will be a disappointment. However, Kersher says that EPSAR will still be able to complete their missions, whether or not the Cog is running.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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