It’s only for two weekends before closing for the season, but the South Slope Recreation Area on Pikes Peak is now open to the public. The watershed is home to bighorn sheep, cutthroat trout, and several reservoirs built more than a century ago. It’s been closed to the public since 1913.
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte says the ecological character of the place meant they had to tread lightly when considering opening the area to the public.
"Up there, there are fragile tundras, there are species that are rare, there are all kinds of challenges that made opening up this site to recreation a long-term process," Forte said during a press conference Thursday morning.
Forte said as the process began and conversations continued, they made it a point to be conscientious of the region.
"Even though it’s taken us seven years to be able to get to the place we’re at today, I really wouldn’t want to have done it any other way," added Forte. "This is the right way to open up trails in the midst of an environment that we need to be respectful of and that we are stewards of for our children and for their children."
For Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, that simply harkens back to the ideals of General William Palmer, the city’s founder.
"I think that it's really important as a community that we remember our roots and that we strive to take care of our parks for future generations," Gaebler said. "That mountain is the reason why so many of us live here, and having access to the South Slope is very important but I think they were wise to mention the importance of the watershed too, and that is part of our legacy too."
Hiking, biking, and fishing are among the current recreation opportunities, with more amenities planned in the future.
Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies says they’ve been involved in the process since the get-go, and the group has led guided hikes to help educate the public.
"We wanted to make sure that when it opened, people had a respect for the fens, for the biodiversity, to make sure that people make good choices when they’re up there. Because the language of the agreement is if Springs Utilities doesn’t believe people are taking good care of it, they have the opportunity to shut it back down."
It’s more than 50 miles to reach the South Slope from Colorado Springs, and visitors need to register for a $15 permit beforehand. Most of the recreation area is between 11 and 12 thousand feet, so park managers say it’s important to dress in layers and take plenty of water. Dogs are not allowed.