Overcrowding, trespassing, environmental degradation, and other issues have led to the temporary closure of Colorado's Decalibron Loop in Park County,. The 8-mile loop leads to four mountain summits with elevations higher than 14,000 feet, called 14ers in Colorado.
The trail system winds and climbs through land stitched together with patches of private property. While landowners of areas in and around mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Kite Lake have allowed the public access to these trails in the past, recent challenges have forced the closure. As of May 1, 2021, landowners have closed the trail system due to issues primarily relating to liability and environmental degradation, according to Colorado Mountain Club. About 60% of the land in this range is privately owned.
Summiting Mount Bross, the fourth 14er in this area, has remained illegal for the public due to fractional ownership of mining claims there. Signs and an established trail below Mount Bross direct hikers to avoid private parcels, however the landowners have increasingly seen and photographed trespassers in the area.
As these peaks of the Mosquito Range have become increasingly popular with outdoor recreationists, challenges have recently been raised including overcrowding, trespassing in mining districts, trash, human waste, and more.
One landowner with parcels across the 14ers describes a photo taken in 1974 of him and his family at Kite Lake when they first entered the backcountry of his land. Now, he witness upwards of 350 cars parked in the space they used to camp. The landowner of this area, Patrick Schilken, is a fourth generation Coloradan with roots that extend throughout the state, he said in a June 2020 discussion panel. He owns mining claims throughout Park County, including the Decalibron Peaks, and now is faced with issues relating to outdoor recreationists on the land he owns. He shows photos of specific mining claims, including one area of a steep ridge, and challenges anyone to explain how he can post or fence the area to keep hikers aware of the private property.
The landowners worked with the Forest Service and Colorado Fourteeners Initiative to develop an established loop route to summit mounts Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln through a lease agreement with the Town of Alma to allow public access in the past few years. The Forest Service has also assisted in managing restrooms at Kite Lake.
With mine shafts in the district, landowners could face liability issues if an individual was injured. But because of the extensive network of mining remains, the landowners do not have the resources to warn the public of the dangers or to remove the hazards. Installing fencing or postings of private property is difficult as much of the area is scree field. High elevation and steep ridges in extreme alpine conditions make the task of managing private property markings nearly impossible, the landowners said during the panel.
The South Park Ranger District of the Forest Service estimates 25,000 to 28,000 visitors per season arrive at Kite Lake as of June 2020, and has increased 30% to 40% in the past 10 years. Impacts of such heavy use of these areas include trash, human waste, and environmental degradation, which are all is growing quickly. Because the land is privately owned, there are no resources to manage the impacts - ultimately leading to the recent trail closure.
Solutions are being explored to reopen the trail system in a sustainable way in the future. Landowners ask the public to stay on the trail and respect private property, minimize impacts to the environment by parking and camping only in designated areas, pack out all types of waste, and follow the Leave No Trace principles. Landowners are exploring options of working with volunteers to maintain the high-use areas, a paid hiking system, change the Colorado Statue to require the public to gain permission from landowners to use private property, and other procedures.
The Kite Lake access road remains closed to vehicles while winter and spring conditions remain. Visitors should plan accordingly and respect private land owners to help ensure that access to the peaks re-opens June 1 as planned.