A rock slide being called “significant” has closed one of Colorado Springs’ most popular trails.
The scenic loop known as Section 16 in the city’s southwest mountains has been marked off-limits from either end — from High Drive and closer to the main trailhead from Gold Camp Road, where the steep path called Palmer Trail ascends at a junction. That closure comes at an early point of the loop, well before the beloved overlook.
Scott Abbott, the city’s regional parks manager, said staff became aware Sunday of “trailer-sized boulders” and trees that tumbled downhill and destroyed a foot bridge at a well-known waterfall along a bend of the trail, closer to the High Drive side of the loop.
Rangers found the scene to be “like what you would see from an avalanche in the winter time,” Abbott said. Following recent snow, wind and freeze-thaw cycles, the belief is that the boulders rolled from hundreds of feet above, Abbott said, crashing through timber and creating a scar that he estimated to be 75 feet wide.
In his 23 years on city staff, “I haven’t seen something this big,” Abbott said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
Asked about the loop reopening, “I have zero timeline at this point,” he said.
The damage is along U.S. Forest Service property. In a statement, the agency said it “is coordinating with many specialists to assess the trail and determine the best course of action to address the safety hazards.”
Abbott said he expects officials to analyze the terrain to determine its stability or lack thereof — an unknown factor that he said played into the city’s decision to close the entire loop, rather than just the waterfall section.
“We don’t want people getting all the way up there and see we’ve closed a 100-foot piece of trail and decide, well, I’m going (through) anyway,” Abbott said.
After the assessment, it’s possible officials could decide to clear the corridor, Abbott said. It’s also possible an alternative could be explored, he said. The fear is that slides are still possible, and that a now-barren hillside could mean washouts.
“Are there possibilities and discussions of rerouting the trail to get up and around whatever may be unstable, trying to get the trail to go in a different location? We just don’t know yet.”
From Steve Bremner’s view, that would not be necessary.
A local trail builder and steward for the better part of two decades, Bremner ventured to the wreckage over the weekend before the closure. He took a video showing him and his dog easily maneuvering the debris.
Bremner called the slide “maybe the biggest one I’ve ever seen.” But he didn’t see the need for the closure.
“They might see something I didn’t notice. I’m not perfect,” he said. “But from my assessment, I didn’t see any danger.”
Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies said she understood the move.
“It’s such a popular trail, we all love that one, and here’s summer and we’ve got this trail closed. It’s unfortunate,” she said. “But boy, I understand some of the rocks were the size of small cars. It’s nothing we want people to be injured from.”
Still, she expected some hikers, runners and mountain bikers would continue through the closure. As did Shanti Toll, vice president of Friends of Red Rock Canyon.
That’s all the more reason to make resolving the issue a high priority, he said.
“Fixing it is a matter of public safety,” he said. “If it’s that important of a trail, and this is, people are going to go there.”
The rock slide recalls others in popular recreation areas locally.
Barr Trail has known boulders to dislodge from hillsides, as has Palmer Park. Last year, a portion of Gold Camp Road closed to vehicles for about a month before a massive boulder was cleared. Also last year, El Paso County officials closed Rainbow Falls due to reported rock fall — a closure that continues.
“Every situation and scenario is going to be different depending on the terrain, the slope and the scope of the slide,” Abbott said.
This one is, indeed, different, he said. “It’s quite honestly a mess up there right now.”