In recent weeks, a short section of the Rockrimmon Trail was blocked by a fence and the trail re-routed across a small creek over a new bridge with a new concrete sidewalk on each end.
Trail users began calling me asking why the detour was created, for no apparent reason. They could see no damage which might have prompted the dramatic change to the trail, which dates back some 30 years to when the adjacent Silver Springs subdivision was developed.
Turns out there were a couple of reasons for the permanent detour: safety and private property rights.
For years the city has been concerned because the trail crossed busy Rockrimmon Boulevard in the middle of a blind curve near an intersection with Allegheny Drive, encouraging trailgoers to jaywalk and put themselves at risk, said Kurt Schroeder, a Colorado Springs parks department official.
“It was a bad place for a crossing,” Schroeder said. “It dumps people out mid-block. It’s not the safest situation possible.”
Schroeder said it makes more sense to redirect the trail 200 feet or so east to a traffic signal and crosswalk at the intersection with Allegheny in front of Fire Station 12.
“That’s where people need to be crossing,” Schroeder said.
The safety concern is completely legitimate. For years I’ve seen people dodging cars there and narrowly avoiding tragedy.
What puzzled me was why the city made the changes now, after all these years. The answer was a surprise.
The city was prompted to after it was contacted by the owner of that section of the trail.
Turns out, the city didn’t own that tiny section of trail or have an easement across it. It was private property!
In the 1960s and ‘70s, when the Golden Cycle Corp. was transforming Rockrimmon from a massive underground coal mine into a master-planned, residential subdivision, it deeded to the city most of the trail, which meanders more than a mile from Foothills Park to Golden Hills Park to Monument Creek with several branches.
But a triangular parcel about 300 feet long and 40 feet wide never was transferred, Schroeder said.
“It fell through the cracks,” he said. “It was an insignificant piece of property. But we should have secured an easement. Who knows how it happened?”
The parcel’s ownership went ignored for decades until it was picked up via quit claim deed by Gary Flanders of LaVeta and his GeoTech Corp. Flanders specializes in taking ownership of small parcels that sometimes get overlooked in transfers of ownership. He owns several in Oak Valley Ranch, for example, and has tried to convert them to development sites or sell them.
In fact, in 2007 I wrote about a proposed 15-acre subdivision in Oak Valley Ranch along Allegheny Drive just below the Pikeview Quarry that was derailed by a Flanders parcel.
Just as the project was on the verge of city approval, it unraveled after the developer, Kalima Masse, placed an easement across an associated open space to allow a road to be built to an isolated parcel Flanders owns adjacent to Oak Valley Ranch Park. Flanders and Masse are partners. (She answered the phone when I called his LaVeta home.)
At the time, city planner Larry Larsen and assistant city attorney Wynetta Massey said the easement was not permitted and withdrew city approval of the project. Kalima Masse eventually abandoned the project.
On the Rockrimmon Trail parcel, Flanders said he planned to build a “linear house” along the creek.
“But the city said no,” Flanders said. “So we offered to sell it to them or trade for surplus property.”
Schroeder said the parks department wasn’t interested.
“We looked at the alternatives and determined installing the bridge and rerouting the trail was the best option,” Schroeder said. “It’s safer, which is the most important factor. And it was less expensive.”
Installing the bridge, sidewalk and fences cost about $150,000. Schroeder said that was half the price of buying the parcel.
Flanders said he couldn’t remember the asking price he put on the parcel but insisted: “It couldn’t have been more than $50,000.”
When I visited the parcel Tuesday, there were trash bags piled up within the fences. And a deer grazed in the brush.
A neighbor told me some joggers ignore the fences and cut through Flanders’ property, often accosted by neighboring homeowners to yell at them to get out.
Schroeder hopes trailgoers will respect the fences and use the bridge and traffic signal.
“It’s private property and we shouldn’t be there,” Schroeder said. “And the new alignment is much safer.”