As an avid runner‚ Dan Cleveland has taken as few as four hours to high-tail it up the 13-mile‚ half-marathon route on Pikes Peak. The executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition‚ Cleveland urges people to take their time while exploring Colorado’s most famous mountain – and for that matter‚ the entire region.
“There is an incredible variety of rock formations‚ vegetation and wildlife to observe around here‚” says Cleveland‚ whose nonprofit organization works to preserve open space and create a network of multi-use trails in the Pikes Peak region. “We want people to really enjoy their natural surroundings.”
The coalition is one reason hikers‚ runners‚ cyclists and horseback riders in and around Colorado Springs have direct access to some of North America’s most breathtaking scenery. An extensive trail system links neighborhood parks and subdivisions within the city to El Paso County regional parks as well as to backcountry wilderness areas along the Front Range of the Rockies.
“I’ve read publications that say we’re one of the most active communities in the country‚” says Tim Wolken‚ director of parks and leisure services for El Paso County. “I think the trail system has a lot to do with it.”
The county maintains about 80 miles of recreational trails and has plans to more than double that amount over the next decade. Nearly half of the El Paso County trails are within the county’s 5‚000-acre parks system‚ which includes Bear Creek‚ Fox Run‚ Fountain Creek‚ Black Forest and Homestead Ranch regional parks. Each park has marked trails and restroom facilities as well as other amenities. The county also oversees many miles of regional trails.
The New Santa Fe Regional Trail stretches for about 15 miles between Palmer Lake and the U.S. Air Force Academy; a portion of the trail follows the abandoned Atkinson‚ Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way. The county’s 9-mile section of the Rock Island Regional Trail connects the towns of Falcon and Peyton. Meanwhile‚ the Fountain Creek Regional Trail extends 10 miles along the floodplain from the city of Fountain to Colorado Springs.
“Our real focus is to develop a regional trail system that connects communities with the regional parks‚” Wolken says. “We work closely with the city to connect the trail systems.”
Chris Lieber‚ parks and recreation design and development manager for Colorado Springs‚ says the city’s 104 miles of completed trails not only serve a recreational purpose but also provide alternative transportation routes between neighborhoods‚ schools and businesses. The Pikes Peak Greenway is the “central spine” of the city’s trail system‚ Lieber says. The 19-mile paved trail connects Monument and Palmer Lake to the north with Fountain to the south. Eventually‚ the Pikes Peak Greenway will become part of a cross-state trail extending from the borders with Wyoming and New Mexico.
“By and large‚ people are surprised by the system of trails we have and the connectivity it provides‚” Lieber says. “It’s a wonderful way to explore our community and a great way to learn about our culture‚ history and natural environment.”
Some of the most popular trails in Colorado Springs are at Red Rock Canyon‚ North Cheyenne Canon Park‚ Monument Valley Park and the Garden of the Gods. Recognized as a National Natural Landmark‚ the city-owned Garden of the Gods park features towering sandstone formations and the historic Rock Ledge Ranch living museum. Visitors enjoy guided nature walks‚ hiking‚ climbing‚ mountain biking and horseback riding on 20 miles of trails.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains numerous trails in the Pikes Peak Ranger District‚ including the 13-mile Barr Trail that about 150‚000 people use each year to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. The Trails and Open Space Coalition continues to work with government agencies and environmental groups to preserve more land for public enjoyment. Founded in 1987‚ the advocacy group recently added ranchland preservation to its overall mission.
“When you come to Colorado‚ you expect to do something physically active‚” says Cleveland‚ who has completed one Pikes Peak Marathon and three half-marathons. “We want to keep open spaces so you can see the mountains and enjoy the beauty.