A reopening is not in sight for one of Colorado Springs’ most popular trails, which closed after Memorial Day weekend due to a massive rockslide.
Photos have since circulated showing a long, wide scar seen far away from the hillside above Palmer Trail, the loop known as Section 16 in the city’s southwest Bear Creek Canyon. Boulders described as “trailer-sized” cascaded from high above, destroying a foot bridge beside a waterfall and leaving trees broken and scattered.
While the city’s parks department closed the trailheads it manages from either end of the loop — from Gold Camp Road and High Drive — the slide occurred on US Forest Service land. The agency posted one of those distant photos of the wreckage on Facebook, along with a message:
“We are in the process of having the area evaluated and making a plan for next steps, which may take some time.”
The Forest Service did not respond to a request for comment. Previously, a spokeswoman said the Pikes Peak Ranger District “is coordinating with many specialists to assess the trail and determine the best course of action to address the safety hazards.”
The city deferred questions but said the closures would remain. While the boulders fell away from the loop’s trailheads, officials have sounded worried about visitors venturing on toward the slope with uncertain stability.
“Know that there are several more, large boulders at the top of the rockslide that still have the potential to fall and seriously injure people,” read the Forest Service’s Facebook post. “We ask that people respect the barriers closing the trail.”
Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies expects those barriers to stay a while.
“This is a big deal. It’s not going to be an easy fix,” she said. “People are going to be frustrated, but it’s got to be done.”
She thought back to last year, when a boulder closed a portion of Gold Camp Road for about a month. She also thought about Rainbow Falls, the El Paso County-managed site in Manitou Springs that is in the middle of a long closure due to what officials say is due to rock fall.
“Every situation and scenario is going to be different depending on the terrain, the slope and the scope of the slide,” city parks’ Scott Abbott said in a previous interview.
He called the Section 16 slide the biggest he’d seen in his two decades on staff.
“Everything I’ve heard is that it’s pretty serious,” said Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates’ Cory Sutela, who has asked on behalf of mountain bikers. “And there’s a big question mark about how long it’ll need to be closed or what the solution is going to be.”
Another question some advocates have heard: Could the trail be opened to the overlook? From the loop’s Gold Camp Road side, that beloved destination comes well before the wrecked section. Abbott has said the worry would be people continuing ahead to potential danger.
It’s not the time to debate that, Sutela said. “It’s time to be supportive of our partners and really learn what’s happening so that we can plot the path forward.”