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Popular Horsethief Falls Trail near Pikes Peak at center of dispute between property owner, Forest Service

TELLER COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Mike Locke has decided, for now, against posting No Trespassing signs on part of his property where a popular U.S. Forest Service hiking trail crosses.

Locke had posted a sign alerting hikers that a segment of the Horsethief Falls Trail on 76 feet of his property would be blocked after June 15 to keep trespassers out; he gave no specifics about why.

As of Monday, however, Locke changed his mind but said that he may still block that part of the trail if he and the Forest Service are unable to resolve the situation.

"I want to avoid closing the trail but I have been trying for (two) years to get this resolved and the Forest Service just cannot seem to make a compromise," Locke wrote recently in an email to Friends of the Peak, a local organization that maintains several trails and is trying to expand the trail network around Pikes Peak. "Everything is cordial for now but I have lost patience in trying to resolve a very simple situation."

Friends president Steve Bremner confirmed Thusday that Locke wants the Forest Service to agree to a land swap, in which Locke would allow hikers on the trail across his property in exchange for a 150-foot parcel in the Pike National Forest.

Locke would build a cabin for his daughter on the parcel if he acquires it, Bremner said.

However, the Forest Service appears reluctant to swap land in the matter, saying that such a deal wouldn't benefit the general public.

In a release issued Thursday, the Forest Service revealed that it's considering several options -- including leasing the section of Locke's property at issue, and creating a detour around his property.

Here is the Forest Service's release:

"This was brought to the attention of the Pikes Peak Ranger District in the summer of 2019. The district ordered a survey in the fall of 2019, which was completed and returned early in 2020.  Among other competing priorities, the pandemic also delayed processing the request. The result of the survey showed that 76 ft of this historical National Forest System Trail 704 is located on private property.

Given that the trail alignment likely dates back to the late 1890’s, the Agency is currently considering its options for resolving  this trespass which could include re-routing the trail, entering into an easement, or the possibility of the land exchange. How long and the manner the process will take will depend on the option chosen.

If the landowner choses to close the trail at some point,  we ask the public to respect private property boundaries and not trespass. While unfortunate, we remind the public that as you can still access both Pancake Rocks and Horsethief Falls from Trail 704 at the Putney Gulch trailhead. We also ask that people not forge a new trail around the closure to avoid damaging resources. If and when it is decided to reroute the trail, the Agency will take the necessary precautions to ensure that the new alignment fully resolves all the issues raised by this discovery."

Bremner thinks that rerouting the trail segment is the best option.

"I don't think it would ruin the ambiance of the trail or anything like that," he said. "Based on looking at a map, I think it would be easy to just walk around his property."

Some town leaders and private landowners in the area, Bremner added, have opposed Friends' efforts to connect and finish the Ring the Peak trail network around America's Mountain.

"We're about 80% completed with it," he said. "There's just a 12-mile gap through Cripple Creek and Victor that we're trying to fill. I think the resistance comes from a not-in-my-backyard type of attitude. Private landowners don't want people on their property, although the impact would be minimal and it would bring in people who'd spend money in those communities."

KRDO NewsChannel 13 has tried to contact Locke but hadn't received a response as of Thursday evening.

The trail, which starts along Highway 67 near Cripple Creek, dates back to the late 1800s and is know for its scenic beauty; it includes a park, a waterfall and the Pancake Rocks formation.

Hikers on the trail Thursday expressed mixed feelings about the dispute.

"If the owner gets a land swap, then other landowners in the Pike National Forest would want to do the same," said Cat Ashley, of Colorado Springs. "I would rather find out what particular things he's upset about."

Rachel Deppe, of Aurora, thinks the trail should remain open for the public.

"But if it were my property, I might also be nervous about people coming on it," she said.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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