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Med Wheel letter to Manitou Springs City Council about Sheep Mountain

MWTA statement on the proposal to build sheep mountain trail. If you live in Manitou, or if you visit Manitou and spend money while there, please share your thoughts on this topic with council: email council and OSAC through Planning Staff Member Dylan Becker <>

Here is MWTA’s letter to council on the matter.

Dear Manitou Springs City Council:

Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates are a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to build, share and protect inspiring trail experiences. We have been in operation since 1991 throughout the Pikes Peak Region, including Manitou Springs. Recently, MWTA facilitated volunteer time and trail building resources to the construction of the successful Iron Mountain Trail, and to maintenance on the Intemann trail among others. MWTA was an active participant in the development of the 2016 Manitou Springs Parks, Open Space and Trails (POST) plan, hosting multiple citizens’ input meetings and providing feedback throughout the process. We are regular attendees at the Manitou Springs Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC) meetings as we work to fulfil our mission.

We note that:

Trails bring a multitude of benefits to every community including 

  • Recreation, enjoyment of amazing and inspiring views, connection to the land
  • Economic value, related to visitors that stay and spend money in local businesses, and increased property values
  • Community health, especially during a time when outdoor spaces are the only option for safe exercise
  • Community connections
  • Transportation opportunities, improving air and water quality

We further recognize that all trails inevitably also bring some undesirable consequences. 

  • Impacts on wildlife
  • Impacts on plants, the trail tread, sedimentation, viewshed
  • Impacts of increased visitation in neighborhoods, particularly where trails cross streets but insufficient trailhead access is provided. 
  • Littering, fires, other illegal activity in open spaces, especially when accessed by informal trails that are not part of a rational trail system.

For these reasons, a Trails master plan is essential in every community that is fortunate to have inspiring trails and trail opportunities at their doorstep. A properly developed plan balances a community’s needs –  including desires for recreation, as well as conservation of the irreplaceable, inspiring natural landscapes, wildlife, and other natural resources.  An effective plan also balances neighborhood experiences, economic impacts. and other values. 

On September 6th, 2016, Manitou Springs city council adopted the POST plan following a rigorous facilitated process with multiple community input opportunities. Steering committee members for the plan’s development included current city council member Nancy Fortuin, Manitou Springs staff including Michelle Anthony and Karen Berchtold, and OSAC and PARAB volunteers Gary Micheals, Michael Maio, Nancy Wilson, Jan Johnson, Danu Fatt and many others.  We honor and respect everyone who contributed their time to developing this important plan.

Figure 9, Page 116 of POST shows the proposed multi-use trail network, including the proposal for the much anticipated Sheep Mountain trail, shown as a dashed line in the middle of this image:

In Part V of the plan, under , Level of Service Analysis, Section D – Open Space and Natural Areas Analysis and Plan on Page 87, it is noted that despite generations of human activity and travel in the area, natural vegetation and wildlife do thrive in our region:

Habitat Condition After a long history of human use and development in the narrow Fountain Creek valley, most of the remaining undeveloped land that contains open space values has seen some form of past use or disturbance. These past disturbances include many formal and informal roads, driveways, and railroads, powerlines and utility corridors; historical, abandoned, and active mining area; and designated, informal, and social trails. Despite this past use and disturbance, many of the open lands surrounding the community of Manitou Springs provide large tracts of habitat where native vegetation and wildlife can continue to thrive. Over the long‐term, one of the objectives of this plan is to shape the City’s open space system in a manner that protects these habitat areas from permanent development while also preserving and enhancing their value as part of the community’s scenic and outdoor recreation assets.

On Page 94 of POST, under Balancing Recreation and Wildlife Habitat Protection, the goal of minimizing the negative impacts of the proposed trail system is further explored:

Access to trails and outdoor recreation is a priority for Manitou Springs residents, and is an important value of the open space system. Outdoor recreation activities provide a broad range of community and individual benefits that are gained by interacting with the natural world, including enjoyment of solitude and natural quiet, opportunities for exercise and physical challenge, opportunities to observe wildlife and learn about the environment, and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. However, all forms of outdoor recreation in the natural environment inherently result in localized impacts to wildlife due to human disturbance, habitat fragmentation, and the potential introduction of non‐native species and predators (e.g., dogs).It is the objective of this plan and the Manitou Springs community to provide meaningful and diverse opportunities for outdoor recreation while minimizing the impacts of those activities.

The plan continues on Page 95 with suggestions for respecting riparian and wildlife corridors:

Provide reasonable and enjoyable trail experiences and connections in appropriate locations to minimize the proliferation of unplanned social trails.

We can all agree that Sheep Mountain is a special place in our community, with huge value for recreation and for the natural environment. The proposed Sheep mountain trail will reduce the temptation for users to create and use social trails to reach the summit, and reduce the overall impact of human activity in the area by confining all but the most ardent “bushwhackers” onto an approved trail, and reducing the overall impacts of human activity on the natural environment. 

On January 25, 2021, a resolution to allocate just $200 from the open space fund (which currently has a balance of $323.9K ) for initial phases of planning for the Sheep Mountain trail failed at OSAC by a 5-4 vote. Fortunately the vote was not conducted according to the city’s rules and will be revisited at the February 22, 2021 meeting. During January’s discussion (video linked here), sentiments expressed by some OSAC members included:

  • Sheep mountain summit  is not inspiring to visit – I only go up there when I want to bushwhack
  • I don’t want this trail at all
  • I think trails negatively impact our viewshed and I don’t want any more trails in Manitou, despite what the POST plan says
  • Multi-use is nothing more than a synonym for mountain bike trail
  • Mountain bikers are “incorrigible” and their attempts to use the intemann trail should be discouraged, especially at Crystal Park Road
  • We should not build the Sheep Mountain Trail because the Crystal Park Road trailhead will become too congested
  • We should not seek to expand access or the trailhead at Crystal Park Road.

The unsuccessful proposal for the Sheep Mountain trail was presented (again) by long time volunteer group CATS, supported in writing by the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Trails and Open Space Coalition.  Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates collaborated with CATS on the proposal, and the board of MWTA has so far allocated $1000 in 2021 for this effort should approval be given.

We request that Manitou Springs council support the planning and construction of the Sheep Mountain trail.  We request a meaningful contribution from the Open Space fund toward its construction. We further request that council direct staff to engage more robustly with OSAC to ensure that our community values, and the proposals in the POST plan,  are respected and supported by the work of OSAC.

Finally – we recognize the substantial volunteer contributions that YOU, our city council, makes in support of the community of Manitou Springs.  Thank you for your service and for this chance to comment on this issue.

Sincerely and respectfully, 

Cory Sutela

Executive Director, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates

Manitou Springs homeowner and taxpayer