Familiar Colorado Springs leader taking charge of Ring the Peak
Advocates have new muscle in their long struggle to complete a 63-mile trail wrapping Pikes Peak. And the name should be familiar.
Chris Lieber is credited with spearheading the development of 5,923 acres of open space and 146 miles of trail that entered the public trust over his 20 years heading Colorado Springs’ Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program. Now, in his first year with the local land-planning firm NES Inc., he’ll lead a team planning the much-anticipated final phase of the Ring the Peak project.
“I’ll sleep better now knowing Chris is on board,” said Susan Davies, Trails and Open Space Coalition director, in a phone call Thursday.
She is among proponents who for years have grappled to eliminate Ring the Peak’s eight-mile gap along the mountain’s southwest side. Talks have stalled with leaders in Cripple Creek and Victor who have been opposed to a route running near municipal watersheds, citing fears of contamination by hikers and mountain bikers. Complicating the plan is the web of jurisdictions spotting the proposed pathway, with land belonging to multiple private individuals as well as Teller County, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Advocates have waited, Davies said, for a “supreme negotiator.”
Enter Lieber, who built a reputation as a deal-making maestro in TOPS property acquisitions that led to Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Cheyenne Mountain State Park and the Section 16 Trail, to name a few.
“The challenge,” Lieber said, “is finding the route that’s best for the communities, for the property owners, as well as for the environmental and regulatory agencies, and in the midst of all that, having a trail corridor that is a great experience for users. It’s a challenge all wrapped up in opportunity.”
A $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado is paying the NES contract. It was awarded to the Trails and Open Space Coalition after a local visit last year from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who hailed a completed Ring the Peak trail as an “international destination.”
NES expects to have a plan for the corridor by the end of next summer, before GOCO funds expire. From there, stewards will seek money to build.
In working with the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, advocates want to push the trail’s economic appeal to local industry representatives – a kind of political play that could prove more common as the industry’s largest expo, Outdoor Retailer, moves to Colorado, as announced Thursday.
Lieber has been discussing Ring the Peak ever since its grand vision arose in a 1999 multi-use plan for America’s Mountain. Before leaving city employ in January, he saw the trail added to the city’s parks master plan.
“It’s certainly gone around full circle,” Davies said. “It only seems appropriate that Chris should be in on this.”