A private landowner who threatened to block a popular hiking trail in the Pike National Forest because 76 feet of it crosses a corner of his land is now saying he won’t shut down the Horsethief Park trail this summer after all, but he may decide to do so eventually if he doesn’t get what he wants from the U.S. Forest Service.
Mike Locke’s property is surrounded by national forest land, and he wants the agency to agree to a land swap with him in return for letting hikers use the trail section on his land. Locke says he first approached the forest service about a deal in 2019.
“I do have a limit to my patience,” Locke said, “so we will see if (the forest service) responds.”
Locke recently posted a sign on his property saying the trail on his land would be fenced off after July 15 and that “further crossing of the landowner’s property” after that date would be considered trespassing.
“You can safely report that the dates have been removed (from the sign) and that the trail is not closed,” Locke said in a text message on Monday.
The Horsethief Park Trail, which is believed to have originated as a wagon road dating back to the 1890s, is located about five miles west of Pikes Peak and is very popular with hikers in the Colorado Springs area.
“Typically on a weekend, the parking lot will be full,” said Steve Bremner, president of Friends of the Peak, an organization which promotes preservation of the environment and enhanced recreational opportunities in the Pikes Peak region. “It’s the quickest way to get to some really pretty areas like Horsethief Park, Pancake Rocks, and there is a waterfall up there.”
Locke says he wants to trade for a small piece of forest service land near another property he owns so he can build a cabin for his daughter.
“My proposal was just as simple as simple could be: I’ll deed you the property where the trail is, and what I want is 150 feet up into the national forest,” Locke said. “That’s (a) pure and simple ask.”
District ranger Oscar Martinez doesn’t seem inclined to accommodate him.
“I can see from the landowner’s perspective that he would want to do a land exchange,” Martinez said. “I don’t know that as a federal land manager it would be in the best interests for us to convey property. It doesn’t make sense if it’s not in the greater good. The more typical tool for us to use when we find these anomalies on the landscape that have been there a long time, we try to find the path of least resistance, which is the logical thing to do. In this case, I don’t know that a land exchange is the appropriate tool. A potential solution could be a trail easement.”
Failing that, Martinez said the trail could be rerouted to avoid Locke’s property.
“It could be as simple as rerouting that corner to get around that 76 feet,” Martinez said. “Would putting a little hitch on the trail be evident if you re-routed it? Probably. But is it doable? Sure. That’s probably a very logical thing for us to do.”
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The potential closure of the Horsethief Trail was alarming to hikers in the area and a concern to proponents of the Ring the Peak Trail, a 62-mile loop around Pikes Peak that hiking advocacy groups such as Friends of the Peak and the Trails and Open Space Coalition of Colorado Springs have been promoting. That trail is about 80% complete, Bremner said.
“There is a section near Cripple Creek and Victor that we’ve been working on for several years and we haven’t been able to close that gap,” Bremner said. “But the rest of it is mostly there, and this trail that (Locke) is threatening to block does access part of that trail.”
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