mount dewey 2.jpg

The mountains surrounding U.S. 24 loom in view from the Mount Dewey Trail in Green Mountain Falls. Seth Boster, The Gazette 

After an outpouring of local support for trails in a virtual meeting Tuesday night, the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees voted to scrap a resolution closing popular footpaths in the town west of Colorado Springs.

"But to completely, fully acknowledge we have issues, and we are working on them," said Mayor Jane Newberry.

The town is close to finalizing its new Parks, Recreation and Trails Advisory Committee. Leaders on Tuesday voiced support for that group's first order of business being to establish an "ambassador program" — volunteers who could be on hand to promote etiquette on busy hiking weekends.

Visitors disrespecting private property, parking illegally, leaving trash and dog waste behind and being obnoxious on residential roads leading to trailheads were among complaints Newberry listed. Those complaints have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, a marked moment of crowding in Colorado's outdoors.

COVID-19 was "a smokescreen excuse to try to deal with other, smaller problems of behavior," said Dick Bratton, the town's former mayor and considered the grandfather of area trails. In the 1980s, he led volunteer construction in the foothills.

Others Tuesday disagreed that the problems are "small."

"You can't deny the fact that hikers don't wear masks and don't social distance," said resident Mac Pitrone.

Ralph LoCascio, a former trustee who has enlisted a lawyer to push trail closures, said hikers on neighborhood roads create an unsafe situation. LoCascio has called it "a liability problem" for the town.

"The Board of Trustees, first and foremost, is for the citizens' protection and safety," he said. "And when I can't get onto my street and I get flipped off, that is wrong. Citizens are not being protected."

Rocco Blasi, long Bratton's right-hand man, dismissed these concerns as "hearsay." Blasi has been chairman of the Green Mountain Falls Trails Committee, the professionally trained group largely responsible for the network it counts as 20-plus miles.

The group was disbanded this month in favor of the Parks, Recreation and Trails Advisory Committee, which the mayor said in a previous interview would focus on "the governmental end of things."

Newberry and trustees said they hoped members of the former trails team would get involved with the new committee. Susan Davies, executive director of Springs-based Trails and Open Space Coalition, called locals "legendary" for their trail work and suspected they would be a good start for the ambassador program.

A signage and parking plan is in the works in Green Mountain Falls. A trails master plan could be coming as well — "a guiding document to move us forward with a united community vision," as it's been described by the town manager.

The board discussed other concepts Tuesday, models from other outdoor enthusiast-heavy towns. One was a permit system, another a "staggered" approach where certain trails were open on certain days to people based on where their name fell in the alphabet. 

A town-run shuttle to trailheads would be costly, but all options should be on the table, Newberry said. "If you know (a private company) that wants to shuttle hikers, send them to town hall." 

That was opposed by local trail advocate Judith Piazza. She said she'd rather have hikers on roads rather than loud, polluting shuttles. But she encouraged a compromise, as did fellow advocate Rebecca Ochkie, floating the idea of alternating trail closures.

"It's hard for us hikers to understand where (opponents) are coming from," she said. "But I think we have to listen to them. We have to."

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