‘Range of options’ to be unveiled at July 7 Gold Camp Road meeting

       When Gold Camp Road's Tunnel 3 collapsed in 1988, the U.S. Forest Service undertook a planning effort with the goal of fixing it and reopening the 8 ½ miles of road so the span could once again carry motor traffic between Colorado Springs and Victor/Cripple Creek.
       Sixteen years later, the Forest Service still hasn't fixed the tunnel, and once again it is going through a planning process regarding the tunnel and the road. A flash illuminates the inside of Tunnel 2 (looking downhill) 
on the driveable section of road from Colorado Springs
       But things are different this time.
       In this new process, the Forest Service has not stated a position for or against reopening the closed segment.
        At a public meeting July 7 at Cheyenne Mountain High School, the Forest Service plans to “unveil a range of options,” said Forest Service staffer Frank Landis, who has been serving as the agency's point man in the process. People will then be asked to comment “specifically on those options,” he said. The idea, according to a public document, is “to develop a plan for the future management of this section of Gold Camp Road that best meets the needs of past, present and future users of the road and surrounding areas... The need for the project is to ensure public safety while preserving the historic character of Tunnel 3 and Gold Camp Road.”
       As detailed in the adjoining article, Gold Camp Road has close ties to the Westside, going back to its beginning at the turn of the 19th century as the Short Line to Cripple Creek railway - created in a time of fierce competition for Cripple Creek gold. Colorado Springs was where the gold was milled, and most of that activity was on the Westside.
        Today, two of the main access points to Gold Camp Road are 21st and 26th streets off Highway 24, with 21st going right past what was once the biggest gold mill site of all (now a proposed housing development called Gold Hill Mesa).
        The road is called Lower Gold Camp where those streets connect to them; it becomes “Gold Camp Road” heading uphill from 26th Street. From there, a driver can go about seven winding, narrow miles - including passage through two of the original railroad tunnels (numbers 1 and 2) - before coming to where the road currently ends at the intersection with High Drive.
       The Forest Service began taking public comments in April. There were public meetings at Cheyenne Mountain High School in May and this month in Cripple Creek. Landis said he has also been meeting on the side with “different groups and organizations” who have an interest or personal stake in the matter.
       Along the way, he's developed a mailing list of 400 people.
       The agency's timetable calls for a draft plan Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be published in October, with meetings on that document leading up to a final EIS in June 2005.
       Landis' impression so far is that the issue “is pretty well split. People feel pretty strongly one way or the other.”
        The split is over cars. One faction wants the 8 ½ miles reopened to cars, so that more people can enjoy the natural beauty of that area; the other wants it to stay as is, in the belief that the absence of cars since 1988 has allowed the blossoming of a unique recreational trail - one that follows the old roadway (except where a social trail goes up and around Tunnel 3).
        One quirk in the debate is that motorcycles, which are routinely banned from area multi-use trails, are seen as acceptable by Champions of Gold Camp Trail (one of the lead proponents of keeping the road closed). This is essentially because they don't dominate a right of way like a car or truck does. (It's also hard to keep them out, because they can get around the gate above the High Drive/Gold Camp Road parking lot.)
       Jolene Thompson of Champions said motorcycles have not been a problem to date, and the group has proposed that they be allowed to use the trail as long as they yield to other users, have mufflers, stay on the trail and obey speed limits.
        Lee Milner, another Gold Camp Trail advocate, said that supporting motorcycles is also partly political, because denying them might result in an unwanted alliance of all motorized vehicles in favor of reopening the road.
        Technically speaking, however, the closed segment is not 100-percent auto-free nor will it be. Part of the reason is the existence of several private-property holdings in that area. Coming in from Old Stage Road or Victor/Cripple Creek, property owners currently use the road to get to their properties, unlocking the gate at the upper end and driving in. The Forest Service's EIS “planning framework” states, “Motorized access on the 7.5 miles of upper Gold Camp Road [above Tunnel 3] must be kept open to emergency, fire control, fuels management and access to private holdings.”
        The framework adds that “emergency access must also be maintained” on the one mile below Tunnel 3, down to the end of the open road segment coming up from Colorado Springs.
       One of Thompson's main trail arguments is the current use by disabled people on wheelchairs. “There's nothing like this in Colorado Springs,” she said, claiming that because the railroad bed is so gradual - only 4 percent uphill climb - it's popular with wheelchair users.
       Marc Hament, who works with the Short Line to Cripple Creek group (a major supporter of reopening the road), begs to differ. The trail might be fine for “racing wheelchairs,” he said, but he thinks that normal wheelchairs have trouble with the grade, loose dirt and sometimes uneven surface. In any event, if the road were open to cars, people of all ages and health conditions could access its features, he said.
       His chief problem with keeping the segment closed is public safety. A former fireman, he has volunteered with the Forest Service to drive up there and check for problems. On a cleanup trip in 2002 (the first such in three years), he hauled out 7 ½ pickup loads of trash, he said. On other occasions, Hament said he has put out abandoned fires and worked to remove graffiti (some of it gang type) inside Tunnel 3.
       Thompson, on the other hand, said her research has shown that crime (such as murder and rape) was greater in the days when people could readily drive from the city to such a remote area. Without the cars, the area has become a “recreational mecca” supporting “a full spectrum” of uses, she said. “But if you open it to cars and trucks, all the other recreational use will go away. Who wants to recreate next to cars and traffic?”
       The answer to that question, according to Milner, can be seen on Old Stage Road, which is open to cars and goes up basically the same canyon. Nobody hikes on that road, he said, “because it's an unpleasant experience.”
        But again there is a difference of opinion. Hament said Old Stage Road - steeper, more winding and less scenic - is simply not as appealing as Gold Camp, for drivers or anyone.
       Milner said anyone wanting to open the road “ought to go up to the trailhead and spend a Saturday morning and see what transpires, see who's up there and talk to them. The parking lot is full and over-full. It's incredible.” By opening the road, he said, “we'd be shutting that down.”
       But that full parking lot is just a fraction of the people who could be getting the Gold Camp experience, according to Hament. “To keep the road for such a small percentage of people is not fair to everybody,” he said.
        People wanting more information can call Landis at 477-4203 or go to the Forest Service website: www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/pp then click on the “Gold Camp Road Issues” link.

Westside Pioneer Article