Could Colorado Parks and Wildlife take over recreation on Pikes Peak? A new plan says it should

Amid a growing regional population and surging tourist traffic on Pikes Peak, land managers around the iconic massif are looking for a better way to manage heightened visitation on America’s mountain. 

It's long been on the radar of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance (PPORA), a nonprofit in Colorado Springs that works with the outdoor recreation industry in the region. The organization held public meetings and met with the various stakeholders around Pikes Peak before arriving at their current proposal that suggests Colorado Parks and Wildlife could take over management of recreation on Pikes Peak.

Becky Leinweber, executive director of PPORA, said her organization heard repeated calls for better education and enforcement on the mountain. She said that increased traffic since the COVID-19 pandemic has brought regular safety and environmental concerns from visitors and land managers. She specifically referred to an increase in illegal garbage dumping, recreational shooting, conflicts between visitors, environmental and habitat damage, and wilderness rescues. 

“All of those things are taking land manager resources that were already thin and just overwhelming them,” she said. “It’s not keeping up with the growth, and a lot of these things are just a matter of front range growth.”

Through PPORA’s conversations over the past few years, the group found that a single entity managing recreation on the peak could be the best way to address the issue and streamline what some call a confusing system. Currently, recreation and conservation are operated by numerous agencies, including the city of Colorado Springs, its public utility, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Leinweber said CPW jumped out as the best candidate to manage all recreation on the peak for a few reasons. 

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is an interesting possibility because they already manage another layer across the landscape and that's wildlife,” she said. “And they have enforcement authority that the other land managers don’t have.”

Frank McGee, the southeast region manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said CPW has been actively engaged in conversations with PPORA about the plan. He said CPW is open to the idea and interested in looking into it further, though many details still need to be ironed out. For McGee, the biggest lingering question is about the scale of CPW’s potential management on the peak, given how many land managers operate in the area currently. 

“One says we should manage recreation on Pikes Peak, well what does that mean?" MCcee said. "Are we talking about just one agency’s lands, are we talking about multiple agencies’ lands? I think there are a lot of details that still need to be worked out.” 

Though questions remain, McGee said having recreation managed under one entity like CPW could be beneficial for visitors and for the area’s natural resources. He said having multiple agencies operating on the peak can be confusing for visitors who don’t understand the difference between recreating on Colorado Springs Utilities land and CPW land, for example. A consistent set of rules and enforcement could make recreation simpler. 

Leinweber said that CPW taking over the management of recreation on Pikes Peak could follow a model similar to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area near Salida. There, a 152-mile stretch of the Arkansas River is owned and managed by multiple different stakeholders, but CPW is the recreation manager across the entire landscape. That gives the state the authority to manage fishing, camping, and other activities along the popular stretch of river.

Similarly, Leinweber said that if CPW were to step in to help manage recreation on Pikes Peak, there would be no ownership or land changes to the mountain. Instead, CPW would simply assume a greater role in managing and enforcing recreation across the mountain.

Leinweber stressed that this idea is still in its earliest phases, and no concrete steps are being taken yet. She said it is too early to say what could be different for visitors to popular spots like the Pikes Peak Highway or the Manitou Incline, which are currently operated by the city of Colorado Springs. 

PPORA recently presented its plan to a working session of the Colorado Springs city council, where Councilwoman Nancy Henjum expressed strong interest in supporting the project as it moves forward.

“This is really important work,” she said. “Certainly for Colorado Springs, [Pikes Peak] is probably our greatest amenity. In fact, I would venture to say it is why we are Colorado Springs.”