The owner of a piece of property that overlaps the Horsethief Park Trail is allowing hikers to trek through his property after warning the public last week that the section of trail would close.
Mark Locke, the owner of a 29-acre plot in Teller County, erected a sign warning hikers of an impending closure July 15 for a 76-foot section of his property that overlaps with Horsethief Park Trail, a popular hiking path that leads to several scenic spots around Pikes Peak.
Locke said the sign was amended Monday so hikers could cross the property for the rest of the summer. But Locke still wanted to encourage the public to reach out to the the U.S. Forest Service about a land swap deal he's been negotiating with the agency formally since 2019.
"I’ve spent these years trying to negotiate and the very last thing I want to do is to block the trail," Locke said. "I want to avoid it if it’s at all possible."
Locke proposed a land swap for a 600-by-100-foot slice of land that includes 76 feet of the Horsehide Park Trail in exchange for a 150-by 475-foot plot of land at the other edge of his property.
"That piece of property would not block any public access to forest because I already own property on the side," Locke said.
Forest Service officials previously told The Gazette they were working on negotiations with the landowner and that they encouraged the public to obey signage.
The pandemic slowed negotiations with Locke but the agency is considering various options including "establishing an easement, rerouting the trail and the possibility of the land exchange," Oscar Martinez, a district ranger for the Forest Service, said Tuesday. The length of the process will depend on the route that is chosen, he said.
"The district ranger will decide which option serves the greater good for the public," Martinez said.
Marilyn Blackwell, a Girl Scout troop leader from Colorado Springs who leads wilderness training through Horsethief Park Trail, expressed relief that the trail would remain open through the summer. Blackwell said she was scrambling to find a new area to use after hearing the trail was expected to close.
"I need somewhere these girls can manage," Blackwell said. "That's the perfect area."
Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, said she is looking forward to a resolution to the dispute.
"The more access the better," Davies said.
Locke said he would reevaluate access to the trail at the end of the summer based on the situation with the land negotiations.