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A map shows the U.S. Forest Service's Bear Creek watershed project area and its proximity to the Colorado Springs Westside and the rest of the city.
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Comment deadline March 27 for federal
fish-saving plan in Bear Creek watershed

       Public comments are being accepted through March 27 on a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service that would remove public access to some popular areas in the Bear Creek watershed as part of an effort to preserve a rare species of greenback cutthroat trout.
       According to the Forest Service website, a University of Colorado genetic study “clearly indicates that the Bear Creek cutthroats are the last true greenback cutthroat trout in the state.” The population is estimated at about 750. “Because of their status as threatened, these fish are afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act,” the website adds. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is also referenced.
      
A greenback cutthroat trout swims in Bear Creek.
Courtesy of Don Ellis
The watershed project area consists of Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities land in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. Utilities has been working with the Forest Service on the project, although “decisions made from the NEPA analysis would apply only to management actions on National Forest System lands,” states a summary letter from Allan Hahn, the ranger for the Pikes Peak Ranger District of the Forest Service.
       Bear Creek flows down through Bear Creek Regional Park and eventually into Fountain Creek.
       Altogether, 8.3 miles of system trail are to be decommissioned, with 5.9 miles of new trail to be built, plans show. The changes would include a major rerouting of Trail 667 along Bear Creek (called the Jones Park Trail, because it goes to the remote but scenic area by that name). But the reroute would move the trail away from the creek in a way that it no longer actually goes to Jones Park.
       Other restrictions would disallow the use of popular “non-system” trails, such as the one going from the current 667 to Tenney Crags north of Bear Creek.
       The public would also lose access to High Drive. The city would still have an easement to drive it for “administrative use only,” Hahn's letter points out. The roughly five-mile mountainside road is accessible by car from the Westside via Gold Camp Road (connecting to North Cheyenne Canyon Park near Helen Hunt Falls). High Drive and Gold Camp intersect less than a half mile up from the Section 16 Trailhead.
       As proposed, the Bear Creek watershed project would feature fish-habitat preservation efforts along the creek. This would include some backhoe work in the “lower .7 miles of Bear Creek.”
       There is no timetable yet for that work, nor an overall cost estimate. Barb Timock of the Forest Service noted that the schedule “will depend on concurrence from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and State Historic Preservation Office.” She added that “we expect to have a decision on this project in late summer 2014. Work will commence after a decision is made. We are working with hiking, biking, motorized and other local volunteer groups to get the work going as soon as possible.”
       Public meetings on the issue have been taking place over the past year. Currently, the Forest Service has narrowed the possibilities to Alternative A (leave basically as is) or Alternative B (as summarized above).
       “There are only two action alternatives because we chose to integrate the changes driven by the first comment period into the proposed action rather than create extra alternatives,” Timock said. “The purpose and need for the project is to protect the greenback while allowing compatible recreation. Alternatives that do not support this purpose and need cannot be included.”
       She elaborated that “the type of recreation” on the Jones Park Trail is not the real cause of the fish habitat concern. “The existence of the trail is causing sedimentation. Trails add more instability to side slopes and riparian areas increasing the sedimentation. This increased sedimentation accumulates in the stream channel and reduces pool depth, impedes spawning and limits food production. Streams have naturally evolved to accommodate storm events and maintain stream dimensions. Trails concentrate overland flow and when the flows reach the stream, the highly erosive decomposed granite stream banks are susceptible to erosion. The consequences of these direct alterations to the stream channel create river instability.”
       The Trails and Open Space Coalition, a private regional advocacy group headquartered on the Westside, has urged Springs Utilities “to find a trail alignment that would balance the needs of the trout while providing access to Jones Park.” See the letter to the Westside Pioneer from Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails Coalition.
       And, in a Pioneer guest column, area outdoorsman/historian Don Ellis laments the potential loss of access to natural wonders in the watershed that he's hiked to for years.
       The website for the Bear Creek Watershed Restoration Project is fs.usda.gov/detail/psicc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5397304. Citizen comments on the Forest Service's proposed changes to the Bear Creek watershed are being accepted through March 27 at bcc@fs.fed.us.  

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 3/20/14; Outdoors: Trails)

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