Happy Trails: Devil's Playground

Devil's Playground is a rocky basin below Pikes Peak, sitting near 13,000 feet and affording sweeping views.

A third season of trail construction on the backside of Pikes Peak was "the best" yet, according to the agency leading the high-profile project.

"Not only in terms of deliverable metrics, like trail construction and structures built; we outpaced the previous two years on every single metric," said Carl Woody, program director with Colorado Springs-based Rocky Mountain Field Institute. "In my view, our biggest success was the level of volunteer engagement."

Woody said crews blazed 3,898 linear feet of new trail, bringing the total to a little more than 2 miles. The blueprint for the new Devil's Playground Trail calls for about 4 miles, starting in the woods near the current split with the Crags Trail and trending south of the current path to the 14,115-foot mountain.

Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) again relied on its own professional hands along with contracted youth crews. Different this summer, Woody said, was the number of volunteers: 81 who poured in an estimated 2,490 hours in the high elevations. RMFI opted not to call on that labor during the pandemic of 2020.

Along with trail, volunteers helped create 477 square feet of retaining wall, built with stone and timber, which was also used for 64 erosion-mitigating steps, Woody said.

"This is not an easy project," he said. "It kind of takes a village to get this done."

Land-owning U.S. Forest Service and advocates have long viewed the work as needed. The current Devil's Playground Trail steeply runs through the forest and steeper on the tundra, allowing erosive channels to form. Above treeline, onlookers have described the trail as an incised gully posing hazards to hikers and the environment.

The higher the terrain, the harder and more technical the trail construction becomes, Woody said.

"It's gonna be a lot more structure-based stuff with rock work, creating those structures that create a sustainable alignment for the trail. It's not just your basic tread-cutting," he said.

Construction is expected to continue at least through 2024. Woody hesitated to project a finish.

"But we're super confident we've developed a model where we're gonna keep trucking along here full steam," he said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and National Forest Foundation grants are largely funding the project.

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