Ideas abound at Gold Camp Road workshop; draft EIS in December

       In response to a surprise meeting strategy by the U.S. Forest Service - one which avoided direct confrontation with the open/close issue - a variety of alternate ideas popped up from citizens at a planning workshop on Gold Camp Road Aug. 7.
       The workshop also included news from the USFS that it will release in December, not October, as previously announced, a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) listing the agency's preferred alternatives on the road. The extra time will allow the document to be “fleshed out in more detail,” workshop attendees were told by Randy Schroeder of Greystone Environmental Consultants, a Denver firm that has been hired by USFS for the Gold Camp Road planning effort. However, he added that the time frame for the final EIS is still scheduled for June 2005.
       The workshop was another in a series of USFS-hosted public meetings this spring and summer regarding the future of an 8.5- mile segment - closed to cars since a tunnel collapse in 1988 - of the historic gravel road to Cripple Creek. The segment has since become a haven for hikers, bikers, motorcyclists and some off-road vehicle users. Saying such a unique recreational scenario ought to be preserved, their proponents have been a strong voice in the current Gold Camp Road study effort.
       Countering that voice has been a call to reopen the road to all vehicles, chiefly based on the idea that such a beautiful area should not be accessible only to those who are physically capable.
       Adding support to that view at the workshop was Old Stage Road resident Barbara von Hoffman, who said she has a petition from fellow Old Stage residents who want Gold Camp Road reopened. Old Stage is an alternate route to the portion of Gold Camp Road that goes on to Cripple Creek. Reopening Gold Camp to vehicles all the way through would cut their traffic in half, she said.
       The USFS strategy at the workshop was to break people up into five arbitrarily selected subgroups of 10 to 15 people. They moved separately from one station to another in the Cheyenne Mountain High School commons, focusing about 20 minutes each on the specific pros and cons of the USFS' four different action possibilities (“concepts”) - all of which include repairing the caved-in Tunnel 3 so that the road would at least be open to emergency vehicular use. There was also a fifth station, where people were asked to “think outside the box” and suggest new concepts.
       The USFS-offered concepts discussed at the workshop are B (keeping the same non-vehicular uses as at present), C (opening some but not all of the 8.5-mile segment to cars), D (opening all the segment as a one-way road), and E/F (reopening the road to all kinds of vehicles with varying levels of trail development).
       A fifth previously announced concept is A (doing nothing at all), which was not included as a subgroup discussion. Frank Landis, USFS outdoor recreation planner, said afterward that the “do nothing” option was required under the National Environmental Policy Act, but there was no point in discussing it because the agency has already determined that some tunnel work must occur for safety reasons.
       Several of the alternate ideas coming out of the workshop involved compromise solutions for reopening the road. Among these were building a parallel trail so that non-motorized users would not have to deal with auto traffic, making the highway a toll road to cover some of the construction/maintenance costs, using volunteers to build and maintain the road and/or trails and allowing access to different types of users on different days.
       Jim Lockhart of the Sierra Club declared opposition to the toll road idea, calling it an “elitist” idea that could backfire by driving more people to use Old Stage Road.
       Regarding the different concepts, there were varying views on C (which one-way direction would be best), D (what “partial” section to open) and E (what road surface to use and how wide to make it). If B were selected, there seemed to be agreement at least that it would allow more effective crime patrol and easier access for people owning property along that segment.
       USFS staffers at the workshop did not say which ideas have a better chance to make the draft EIS, not even opinionating on such unlikely suggestions as bringing back the train (the road was originally a train route to the gold fields) or, its near opposite, removing the road altogether.
       Schroeder did note, however, that if the road were opened to vehicles, it would only be on a “seasonal” basis. “It was seasonal in the past,” he said. “It would be that way again.”
       Bill Nelson, a USFS staffer at the workshop, commented that it had been a “big mistake” for the USFS to close so much of the road after the tunnel collapse.
       There is no certainty when or if any plans for the road will be implemented. The federal funding at this time only covers the planning stage and creation of the EIS. Landis told the group he has no complaint with that arrangement, noting that until a plan has been decided there is no way of determining what its implementation would cost.
       Both he and Schroeder said afterward that while the workshop may not have changed a lot of people's minds, the citizen input will help in developing the USFS' recommended alternatives for the draft EIS.

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