Trail improvements make Pikes Peak even more accessible to visitors

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Many of Pikes Peak’s 11.5 miles of trails have received extensive improvements in the past two years, including the Deer Ridge Trail shown here. To make the trail safer, workers chopped off roots and used tools to shave out the trail where it was leaning, making it flat. (Submitted photos)

For the bridge on the Deer Ridge Trail, Pikes Peak State Park Manager Matt Tschirgi said workers “got some long, 16-foot railroad ties to use as bridge beams and trusses and did decking out of treated lumber so the bridge is solid now.”

These images show the before and after of the Deer Ridge Trail Bridge. The little wooden bridge was constructed in the 1980s or 1990s and had badly deteriorated.

The bridge railings in the park will be made of black locust logs with the bark shaved off. Jack and Lori Tibbs are shown here completing that task. The trees, which park manager Matt Tschirgi said are non-native invasives planted by the CCC in the 1930s to help with soil erosion, were harvested in Pikes Peak State Park. They have a natural resistance to rot, so the railing will be almost like a treated log.

A bridge on Horn Hollow was also replaced this summer. The park's crew included Carl Davis, Vincent Schmelzer and Jerrett Euans.

This image shows the before and after of the Horn Hollow Bridge.

Railroad tie steps on the Myotis Trail that goes from the park shelter to Bridal Veil Falls and on the Bridal Veil Trail going up to Hickory Ridge were also replaced this year. “There were several railroad tie steps that rotted or washed out. The guys dug out or cut out the old ties, replaced them with a new tie and pinned it in with rerod. They hauled a generator down there and a large, half-inch drill, then drilled a hole into the tie and took a 12-inch piece of rerod and sledge hammered it in,” Tschirgi detailed. Now, the boxes are being filled with crushed lime with help from a local Eagle Scout project.

Other 2019 updates included work to spread and pack rock on Point Ann Trail, the east Hickory Ridge Trail and some of the Weeping Rock Trail, which had portions washed out from heavy rain. Local contractor Bob Thornton completed the work thanks to FEMA funds. He’ll do more on Weeping Rock and the Chinquapin Trail this fall, said Tschirgi, but with funds from the park’s budget.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

In his 22 years as manager at Pikes Peak State Park, Matt Tschirgi has realized the importance of trails to the park located just south of McGregor.

“What a lot of people come here to do is hike on our trails,” he said.

That’s been especially true in 2020, when Pikes Peak has seen a record-breaking number of day visitors, as well as revenue at its campground and concession stand. While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited many social activities, people can still visit parks and other natural areas.

“That’s one of the positives that’s come out of the pandemic,” said Tschirgi. “There’s more appreciation for outdoor spaces and shows a need for parks.”

Thanks to the efforts of Tschirgi and his crew of seasonal “recreational aides,” many of Pikes Peak’s 11.5 miles of trails have received extensive improvements in the past two years—making the 1,000-acre park even more accessible to visitors.

Pikes Peak actually doesn’t have a lot of developed area. 

“You wouldn’t think so at first glance, with the campground and overlook and shelter,” Tschirgi remarked, “but the developed part is just on the south end, and the rest of the park you have to hike to view, which I think is great.”

 One of the most popular treks is the Bridal Veil Trail to picturesque Bridal Veils Falls, which includes a half-mile wooden boardwalk constructed in 1989-1990. 

“Even though there are a lot of stairs, it’s somewhat safe and accessible,” said Tschirgi. “There’s a hand railing, at least on one side, and all the way down to the Crow’s Nest there’s a railing on both sides.”

A few years ago, staff noticed the decking was deteriorating. Last year, four workers were finally able to replace 20,000 board feet. 

Tschirgi said the boardwalk’s frame work was built with rerod: Using a jackhammer, the material was pounded through the ground until it hit rock. Once that was stable, workers cut the rerod off then welded iron boxes onto it. The boxes became the frame for bolting wood into. Luckily, all that skeleton work was still good. 

“There were three or four spots where the welds broke loose and it was bouncy or leaning, and we corrected those issues before we replaced the lumber. Any of the upright boards—hand railings and toe kicks—those were solid as can be, so we didn’t go through the extra work to replace those,” Tschirgi explained. “What was deteriorating was the boards that were flat. It was a lot easier to do that. I can’t imagine constructing it from scratch years ago.”

A small section of the boardwalk by Bridal Veil Falls has yet to be completed. Staff are trying to figure out how to make the deck where it ends wider, in an effort to keep visitors from going under the falls. Around a decade ago, Tschirgi said a railing was put on the last section of stairs to let people know they can’t travel past it.

“But there’s a little land right around that railing where people just walk around it,” he said. “My vision for that spot, if we want to keep it safe, is to tear off that railing and build the platform out so it’s wider and blocks people from walking around it—they’d have to climb over the railing. It would also give a sense of finality: ‘I’m going hiking to Bridal Veil Falls and I made it. Here’s the platform where I can stand and view it, where the whole family can take a picture.’” 

Although the crew hoped to complete that project this year, it will likely be on next year’s list.

Other 2019 updates included work to spread and pack rock on Point Ann Trail, the east Hickory Ridge Trail and some of the Weeping Rock Trail, which had portions washed out from heavy rain. Local contractor Bob Thornton completed the work thanks to FEMA funds. He’ll do more on Weeping Rock and the Chinquapin Trail this fall, said Tschirgi, but with funds from the park’s budget.

This year, one of Pikes Peak’s biggest efforts was the Deer Ridge Trail, which starts at the lower overlook and goes along the river up toward Deer Ridge Mounds, just east of the campground. At Deer Ridge Mounds, the short trail curves to the right and comes out at the east loop of the campground. 

“We’ve sort of neglected it over the years because it’s a rocky, rooty trail,” Tschirgi said. “It was just a foot trail that was slanted, and when it was wet, it was slippery walking on a slope. It’s not one we can take our utility vehicles on and haul our equipment.”

To make the trail safer, the crew chopped off roots and used tools to shave out the trail where it was leaning, making it flat. At the start of the trail, they filled in a washout with stone.

“There was also a little wooden bridge that was constructed in the 1980s or 1990s that was deteriorated really bad. There was a hole on one side of the bridge about the size of a basketball,” noted Tschirgi. “So we got some long, 16-foot railroad ties to use as bridge beams and trusses and did decking out of treated lumber so the bridge is solid now.”

The railing, which will be completed yet this fall, will be made of black locust logs with the bark shaved off. The trees, which Tschirgi said are non-native invasives planted by the CCC in the 1930s to help with soil erosion, were harvested in Pikes Peak State Park. They have a natural resistance to rot, so the railing will be almost like a treated log.

The other two bridges in the park, one of which was replaced on Horn Hollow this year, will eventually have the same railings.

The Horn Hollow, Point Ann and Chinquapin Ridge trails, on the north end of the park, had washouts repaired this year. Railroad tie steps on the Myotis Trail that goes from the shelter to Bridal Veil Falls and on the Bridal Veil Trail going up to Hickory Ridge, were also replaced. 

“There were several railroad tie steps that rotted or washed out. The guys dug out or cut out the old ties, replaced them with a new tie and pinned it in with rerod. They hauled a generator down there and a large, half-inch drill, then drilled a hole into the tie and took a 12-inch piece of rerod and sledge hammered it in,” Tschirgi detailed.

Now, the boxes are being filled with crushed lime with help from an Eagle Scout project.

Maintaining trails is important, Tschirgi said.

“People want to build trails everywhere, but we have to step back and say, ‘Do we have the funds to maintain this properly and keep it safe, or will it cause further problems down the road?’” he stated. “I try to plan out things for the park and squeak out funding for trails as much as I can, and I think we have done that over the years, especially the last couple years.”

Thanks to a groomer the Friends of Pikes Peak State Park group was able to purchase with funds from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, Tschirgi said many Pikes Peak trails will continue to be accessible to visitors throughout the winter, for activities like cross country skiing and snow shoeing.

“Before snow flies, I want to highlight areas on a trail map. I also ordered ski signs to put up in the winter,” he said. “That’s exciting to provide some outdoor recreation in winter and get out on our trails.”

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