Road or ruin? 

'No way everyone will be happy' with final Gold Camp ruling

click to enlarge Gold Camp Roads collapsed tunnel #3.
  • Gold Camp Roads collapsed tunnel #3.

The U.S. Forest Service has received more than 200 written comments expressing everything from dismay to delight for a proposal to open scenic Gold Camp Road to automobiles for the first time since a tunnel collapsed 17 years ago.

It ends what has been an emotional year for both sides -- hikers and car lovers. While local governments and businesses envision a charming drive between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek, hikers and horseback riders who use the road as a trail predict the appeal would soon be lost amid traffic jams and pollution.

Frank Landis, a planner for the U.S. Forest Service, said he doesn't know what Pike National Forest Supervisor Bob Leaverton's final decision will be on the road, which is expected in June. Landis has concluded, however, that there is no way everyone will be happy.

"How can you possibly give everybody a little bit of something?" he said.

One-way traffic

Earlier this year, the Forest Service unveiled its "preferred alternative," which would allow automobiles to traverse the winding dirt road during daylight hours, one way, east to west, April through October.

While the City Council and El Paso County Commissioners embraced the plan, 42 percent of those officially commenting to the Forest Service prior to a March 29 deadline said they did not want vehicles allowed on the road.

The Independent obtained the letters, e-mail and other correspondence in a freedom of information request.

The nonprofit Southern Teller County Focus Group Corp., a tourism booster, applauded the Forest Service's plan. The group's board of directors encouraged the Forest Service to go one step beyond, allowing two-way traffic.

"We prefer a plan that is fair to all, but in all fairness, those who wish to enjoy the scenic drive on a road that was public for 60-plus years and closed due to a lack of funding to repair it have been denied that opportunity," the group's board of directors wrote.

Meanwhile, Larry Svoboda, a top regional official with the Environmental Protection Agency, questioned the assumption that sightseeing should be considered a priority since there are "other roads in the Pikes Peak region that currently meet that need." He also cited fears of trail erosion, bringing to Leaverton's attention the national $8.4-billion maintenance and reconstruction backlog that has left foresters chronically shortchanged in recent years.

Fear and disgust

It will cost more than $700,000 to repair the tunnel and up to another $700,000 to accommodate the road to one-way traffic, Landis said.

A two-way road would cost more, he added. And estimates for additional signs and law-enforcement officers, both needed for safety, were unavailable.

Some fear that even with policing, the road would be treacherous.

"Given the steep drop-offs along many portions of the closed section, unexpected encounters could be fatal not only to pedestrians and bicyclists, but also to motorists and passengers," wrote James Lockhart, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club's Pikes Peak chapter.

Various environmental groups and the EPA also scolded the Forest Service for failing to project the number of vehicles that would hit the road. Without that information, it is almost impossible to know how automobile pollution would affect the area's air, water and wildlife.

Other letters expressed disgust, accusing the Forest Service of catering to interest groups.

"I can no longer take advantage of hiking in the area because of my age but should not be prohibited from driving there on a public road in order to provide a 'Private Park' for the elite," wrote Mary Goulet, a Springs resident.

Another local resident, Brian Schultze, quipped in a letter: "The concept that hikers/bikers can share the road is ludicrous."

-- Michael de Yoanna


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