The Decalibron Loop (Photo) Breanna Sneeringer

The Decalibron Loop (Alma)

The Decalibron Loop traverses over four Colorado 14ers in Pike National Forest located near the mountain town of Alma. Starting at the Kite Lake Trailhead, the 7.6-mile trail gains 3,359 feet of elevation. Hikers can bag four peaks in a single day trek including Mount Bross (14,172 feet), Mount Lincoln (14,286 feet), Mount Cameron (14,238 feet) and Mount Democrat (14,148 feet). 

Photo Credit: Breanna Sneeringer, OutThere Colorado.

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.

RELATED: Human waste, destroyed historical structures among issues behind permit consideration for Colorado trail

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.

RELATED: Future of hiking popular fourteener might mean mandatory shuttle, carpooling

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.

Leslie James is all about Colorado when it comes to writing features, sharing adventures, and creating colorful galleries. She loves camping, hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding. Leslie joined OutThere Colorado in November 2020.

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(3) comments

Dsgiannola

It's a shame what people do to trails. No person has the right to violate natural space/lands or no trespassing restrictions. Where has "leave no trace" gone! Unfortnately the attitude that you can do whatever you want prevails in this climate of no accountability and elevation of priveledge without consequences. We will most surely ruin the gifts nature has given if we dont come to our senses now!

BilD

It’s great to see property owners exercising their rights!

Sporgo

Dont be ridiculous. These are old mining claims which in most cases are not even legal to mine anymore. People buy and hold them hoping that the federal government will one day allow building on them again. That will NEVER happen.

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