DIVIDE, Colo. — A new trail under construction to the summit of Pikes Peak is part of a greater effort around Colorado to create trails that preserve the state’s 14,000-foot peaks.
“A lot of fourteeners in Colorado don’t have sustainable trail systems because they are just made by the first people that [wanted] to get to the top of a mountain and they just hiked straight up,” Jacob Twersky said.
Twersky is a field coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. He’s been leading a crew creating the new trail, with help from the Mile High Youth Corps.
“We’re kind of in this phase right now where we’re trying to mitigate that and create trails are sustainable,” Twesrky said.
The project on Pikes Peak will replace the current path from Crags Campground up the mountain’s northwest slopes.
That existing route is a fall line trail with steep, vertical gains.
“It goes straight up the hillside and is causing a ton of erosion,” said Jay Minton, the program coordinator for Rocky Mountain Field Institute.
Minton said the trail has widened to 20 feet in some areas and the human traffic has created gulleys on the pathway, threatening the alpine plant life that is unique to the peak.
“We’re losing really vital resources in soil and high alpine plants,” Minton said. “All of them are adapted to exist in the alpine ecosystem, but those adaptations occurred in the absence of thousands of fourteeners climbers ever year. So, some of those plants, even five steps is enough to kill an individual plant species.”
According to counts from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, those highest mountains see over 334,000 hiker days each year. Pikes Peak sees between 15,000 and 20,000. Most of those days are from the longer Barr Trail that begins in Manitou Springs. The trail above Crags Camp is shorter and starts in Teller County and brings hikers through the Devil’s Playground.
RMFI is also working on a project on Kit Carson Peak in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range with the same goal.
RMFI and the Colorado Fourteener Initiative are two nonprofits looking at the over 50 14,000-foot peaks in the state and assessing which ones have routes that are causing rapid degradation of the mountains. CFI has projects both completed and underway in the San Juans, Sawatch and Front mountain ranges.
“It’s important for recreators, but it’s also really important for the environment that we do this work, because people are coming out here no matter what we do, so if we can build them a nice sustainable, long-term trail network, then it will benefit everyone in the long run,” Twersky said.
The new trail splits off from the current one fairly quickly into the ascent. The trail has been routed with the help of the U.S. Forest Service to ensure it has a minimal impact on the environment surrounding it.
“[It’s] creating access to a place where people don’t typically get to go,” Minton said. “If you look around in this area, it’s this beautiful, lush, kind of mossy green location and it’s sort of different from what you get to experience on the current trail.”
This summer, Minton and Twersky have led the team creating the new trail where they have cut a preliminary route out of the hillside and cut trees in the route.
The trees, rocks, and dirt that have been removed are all used whenever possible.
“None of us like to cut down trees as a concept, so it’s really nice to be able to use something that we’ve cut down so that it doesn’t feel like it’s going to waste,” Twersky said.
During this summer’s project, the crews have all those materials to make retaining walls for the trail so they are able to endure a large amount of traffic and precipitation.
The crew has done much of the foundational work needed to construct the trail this summer, starting in May, but Minton expects it still to take three or four years to finish.
Once it’s done, it will be slightly longer in distance, but Minton expects it to take about the same amount of time because it won’t be as steep.