$290,000 later, Forest Service is left with no plan for closed section of Gold Camp Road

       The closed 8 ˝-mile section of Gold Camp Road will not reopen anytime soon. That became evident this week when United States Forest Service Deputy Regional Forester Richard Stem overruled the decision this spring by Pike National Forest Supervisor Bob Leaverton that would have opened the section under certain conditions.
       The action, which cannot be reversed, ends a $290,000 federally funded study that lasted 2 ˝ years and involved numerous public meetings, a comment-taking effort and Forest Service development of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a final EIS and a Supplemental Information Report (SIR).
       The reversal came in response to four appeals from opponents of the reopening. The appeals focused on numerous issues, including in large part the belief that the Forest Service's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) effort had failed to adequately study the negative impacts that would result from bringing cars back to an area that has become a non-motorized mecca in the 18 years since Tunnel 3's partial collapse forced closure of the 8 1/2-mile segment of the historic highway to Cripple Creek.
       However, Stem's ruling ignored those aspects and focused instead on two points that were raised - that the Forest Service's follow-up document to the EIS (the Supplemental Information Report - SIR) did not follow protocol as prescribed in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Stem's ruling endorsed a recommendation by Clinton Kyhl, a Forest Service ranger from Laramie, Wyo., who had been called in to give an unbiased review of the appeals, according to Barbara Timock, a spokeswoman for the area Forest Service.
       Specifically, Kyhl wrote that the SIR “inappropriately included new information regarding the hours of operation and the (requirement for) one-way bicycle traffic, neither of which were analyzed and disclosed in the [Final] EIS and not made available for public comment in violation of NEPA.”
       Steve Harris, a local attorney, former chair of the City Parks Advisory Board and author of the main appeal, said afterward, “It is interesting that the appeal deciding officer only ruled on one narrow issue presented in the appeal… By reversing the decision on this basis alone, the Forest Service avoided confronting many other troubling issues related to the plan that were raised on appeal.”
       Don Ellis, a lead member of the Friends of Gold Camp Road, which has advocated keeping the road open, said he thought the Stem ruling was “pretty flimsy to say the least.” It should be obvious that bicyclists need to obey state law, and it was inherent in the EIS that many details of the road operation were to be worked out between a local committee, a contracted third-party operator and the Forest Service, Ellis said.
       It's not as if the EIS, which attempted to find a compromise between the open/close factions, was roundly praised when it came out last year. Congressman Joel Hefley, whose office had secured the $290,000 in federal funding for the study, commented at the time, “I would have liked it if the decision had come down definitively one way or the other. Frankly, I didn't take this as much of an answer.”
       Gold Camp Road, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, started as a railroad from Colorado Springs to the Cripple Creek gold mines in 1901. In 1924, it was converted to a highway, and it stayed that way until 1988. A driveable part of the road starts from the Westside, near the Bear Creek Nature Center, and continues about seven miles to a parking lot at the intersection with High Street, next to where the road is closed.
       The lower part of the 8 ˝-mile segment is particularly popular for its hiking trails.
       The minimal goal of the EIS effort was to fix Tunnel 3, which just this year suffered a new setback - an arson fire that destroyed its remaining timbers. However, such a repair would have to be funded now through another source.
       “The decision by the Reviewing Officer is not subject to appeal and stands as the final administrative determination of the U.S. Department of Agricul-ture,” reads a press release from Timock. “Leaverton's decision has been vacated and may not be implemented unless a new decision is published. There are no plans for a new decision at this time.”
       “I'm disappointed with the reversal of the decision,” Leaverton said in a prepared statement. “I think we have worked hard for two years on a decision that would embrace both motorized and non-motorized access to no avail. We need to take a moment to reassess where we go from here.”

Westside Pioneer article