Just outside of Colorado Springs, in Divide, Colorado, hikers have for years chosen to take the Devil’s Playground Trail to the summit of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. A quieter alternative to the popular Barr Trail, the Devil’s Playground Trail traverses across steep slopes with magnificent views and glittering granite before crossing the Pikes Peak Highway and arriving at the summit of “America’s Mountain.”
Although the exact number of hikers visiting the Devil’s Playground Trail each year is currently unknown, the mountain itself is one of the most visited in the world, with adventurers arriving via foot, rail and automobile to reach the high summit. And the numbers continue to climb; visitation to Pikes Peak’s summit rose 15 percent from 2017 to 2018 according to a recent report.
Unfortunately, Pikes Peak has not been immune to the degradation and impacts plaguing other popular Fourteeners around Colorado. According to the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), the trail is aligned with the fall line in many locations and lacks proper stabilization to prevent erosion and runoff. The resulting water and debris flows have caused deep gullies and a widened, heavily eroded trail. The hiking experience, particularly on the way down, is similar to walking across ball bearings – on a steep slope!
These growing impacts, coupled with the need to protect the rare, yet threatened alpine plants, led the NFF and partners – including RMFI, Colorado Mountain Club, Mile High Youth Corps, Friends of the Peak, and the U.S. Forest Service – to prioritize Pikes Pike through the Find Your Fourteener Campaign.
As Jennifer Peterson, Executive Director of RMFI noted in a 2018 news release:
“Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks continue to see increased use from visitors across the globe desperate to stand atop the summits of these iconic mountains. With this increased use comes increased degradation to the surrounding natural resources. Balancing outdoor recreation and resource protection is critical in these fragile areas, and can be achieved through the construction of sustainable summit routes that avoid sensitive areas and effectively define the usage corridor."
With increased collaboration, funding, and momentum, the NFF, RMFI, Forest Service and other partners are working toward a newly aligned, restored Devil’s Playground Trail on Pikes Peak. In 2018, thanks to support from REI and other supporters, restoration and rehabilitation began in preparation for major construction.
Following two weeks of trail work by youth corps, volunteers converged on the trail to spend a weekend rehabbing some of the most damaged sections. Although the season was short, the work yielded impressive results.
Beginning in 2019, the effort will ramp up. Partners expect to begin constructing a 3.85-mile trail – a three-year project that will yield years more enjoyable, sustainable experiences on the Devil’s Playground Trail. We’re excited to see what the future holds for the Devil’s Playground Trail to the summit of America’s Mountain.
Please continue to visit us at nationalforests.org/Fourteener to follow the progress and learn how you can help!