Last local meeting on Gold Camp plan
But Forest Service still wants ‘substantive’ public comments through March 15 deadline

       The public part of the public process is all but over.
       The U.S. Forest Service held its last local “open house” Feb. 15 on reopening a closed segment of Gold Camp Road, with the finale scheduled in Cripple Creek Feb. 17. Although comments will continue to be accepted until March 15, there will be no more gatherings where citizens can come in, look at displays, get information from Forest Service employees or consultants and leave comments.
       A decision will be an-nounced, as early as June, by Bob Leaverton, a Forest Service executive in Pueblo who supervises the Pike National Forest (where Gold Camp Road is), in addition to several other national forests and grasslands in the region.
       However, the end to public meetings in no way means a final decision has already been reached, according to Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Planner Frank Landis. “We want substantive comments,” he said after the Feb. 15 open house at Cheyenne Mountain High School. He noted that some interesting ideas have come in since the Forest Service announced its preferred alternative Jan. 10 and that these could yet impact the final decision.
       Landis has served as the Forest Service point man throughout the roughly one-year public process on Gold Camp Road. The agency's announced preference, Alternative E, would repair Tunnel #3 and reopen (one way) an 8.5-mile segment that has kept the road from being a public thruway since the tunnel's partial collapse in 1988.
       After March 15, Forest Service officials will undergo a “peer review” of all the comments, Landis said. “We're obligated to address them in the final document.”
       No federal funding for the project (at the very least, the tunnel is to be repaired) has been allocated as yet.
       Asked about City of Colorado Springs input on the issue - the Parks Advisory Board recently recommended the more restrictive Alternative F and City Council is to take that up next week - Landis said the city stance “wouldn't weigh more” than that of any other group or individual. “It will be looked at equally with the others.”
       Alternative F would set timing restrictions on when the road would be open to cars, meaning that on certain days (to be determined) it would continue to be accessible only to hikers and bikers.
       Landis said the Forest Service did not propose that solution because it failed to meet the goal of “universal access to everyone.”
       The alternatives appear in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a 265-page document that provides background information and the rationale for the Forest Service preference.
       One of the topics on which Forest Service has recently been hearing comments regards the first mile of what would be the newly reopened segment.
       For those opposed to reopening the road, the main sticking point has been that cars would ruin what they claim has become a “recreational mecca.” However, in the 8.5-mile segment that's now closed to cars south of the Gold Camp Road/High Drive parking lot, about 95 percent of the people hike or bike the road no farther than the 1 mile between the lot and Tunnel 3, Landis said, with the chief destinations being the popular St. Mary's and Seven Bridges trails.
       Landis said one idea that has come forward is a side trail along that first mile, to separate motorized from non-motorized users. Another suggestion has been for parking at the trailheads, but the problem there is that the trailheads are not on Forest Service land, he said.
       The City Parks Board recommendation included the suggestion that two-way traffic be considered (on days the road is open). Otherwise, based on the one-way scenario, cars driving beyond the High Drive parking lot would have to continue the full 8.5 miles south to Gold Camp Road's intersection with Old Stage Road, at which point they could continue on to Cripple Creek (another 26 miles) or drive the 8 or so miles back down Old Stage to return to the Springs.
       About 50 people attended the Forest Service's Feb. 15 open house. This was about half the number that regularly came to the open houses in 2004. “This is an indication of the saturation process,” Landis said, opining that most people have had enough talk on the issue.
       For information on how to submit a comment on Gold Camp Road, call Landis at 477-4203.

Westside Pioneer article