Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hiking at UCCS

Posted By on Sun, Aug 30, 2015 at 7:07 AM

click to enlarge JEFFERY M FOSTER
  • Jeffery M Foster

I’ve spent the summer writing a lot about “road trip” hikes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of great trails right here in Colorado Springs — you'll find a handful of options in the Independent's College Issue. 

A lot of work has been done on the trails in and around the city lately. The Mt. Muscoco trail in North Cheyenne Canon Park was re-routed and improved, work continued on the Dixon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, the Friends of Ute Valley Park received a large grant for trail work, and hundreds of volunteers and city and county park employees worked hard to fix trails damaged by heavy rains and floods.

Beneath the public radar however, has been the ongoing work done on the grounds of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) by the Student Outdoor Learning Experience (SOLE) center. Led by Andrea Hassler, Trails and Outdoors Coordinator for the UCCS Campus Recreation Department, the university has been restoring old trails, fixing trails washed out from this year's rains and re-routing and closing unsustainable trails.

According to Hassler, the Recreation Department got started on trail projects after a grad student wrote a thesis on the history of the UCCS area and identified numerous trails criss-crossing the campus. Recognizing that the existing trails needed restoration, Hassler was able to expand the Recreation Department to including the trails on the campus. In the two years since UCCS took responsibility of the trails, the Recreation Department has worked with the city's parks department to connect the campus trails with surrounding city trails. Campus trails connect to the Pulpit Rock open space to the north, and the Pikes Peak Greenway trail via North Academy corridor trails.

UCCS was built on what was originally the site of the Cragmor Sanitorium, used for the treatment of tuberculosis that operated from 1906 until the late 1930s, and some trails on campus have significant historical value. A trail running along the tall ridge behind the original sanitorium was used as a gauge for how well patients were progressing with their treatment. Today, the Happy Trail, as it was known to patients who were able to complete the hike, still exists. And Native American relics such as arrowheads, have also been found on campus, many along the older trails.

The university has worked with Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, the International Mountain Biking Association and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute to create sustainable multi-use trails, too. And as  building construction on campus has increased, new trails are being built for students to use as they commute around campus. The Sherpa trail, for example, winds its way throughout the campus and provides an enjoyable route from the north parking areas. With eight miles already in use, the UCCS campus will eventually increase to approximately thirteen miles of trails as projects proceed, according to Hassler. She and her staff have developed a comprehensive trails master plan that's serving as a blueprint for future trail projects, but they aren't the only ones involved.

Students from the geology, geography and history departments often volunteer to help with trail work to aid in their studies, and Hassler also teaches a three-credit Geography of Trails course. And under the UCCS Serves program, students can volunteer with the Recreation Department to do trail work and meet community service requirements.

The work being done on campus represents a great amount of initiative on the part of UCCS to not only improve and expand hiking and cycling in Colorado Springs, but also a commitment to educating students in  responsible recreation.  I predict this will continue to pay dividends not only to the school, but to the Pikes Peak region.

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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