COLORADO SPRINGS — Some call it, 'the scar,' but in six months the PikeView Quarry in Northwest Colorado Springs will look very different. News5 got exclusive access into the quarry to learn where the project stands and why the idea to repurpose the land into a mountain bike park is not a done deal.
Early next year, the exposed, jagged cuts of red limestone on the face of the mountainside will be filled in and covered with topsoil.
"I believe in six months, we'll have all of the dirt moved up and you won't see any more of the rubbleized [sic] slide. The slope will be completed and at least part of it will be reseeded and planted," said Jerry Schnabel, who oversees the reclamation project at PikeView Quarry.
Fifteen years after a landslide prompted a change of course, Schnabel has watched these 150 acres transform from the deep footprint of a working mine into a cleared slope.
The work to reclaim this quarry fell into three phases. Two of them are complete.
The first, and most daunting, Schnabel said was to fill a 200-foot hole and compact the material to stabilize the mountain and rebuild the slope from the bottom up.
To prevent future slides, engineers with Stantec created underground trench drains that allow water to flow through the mountain to the Douglas Watershed. After that, crews added another 150 feet of slope to reach what we now see as the scar on the mountainside.
The final step is to cover the scar with topsoil and, working with the Department of Forestry, replant native trees, shrubs, and grasses. In about two decades time, the quarry site will blend into the natural landscape.
"So when we’re done, it’ll look more like the Blodgett Creek outcroppings, it won’t look like a cardboard box like you see over here," Schnabel said, pointing to the quarry's face.
The reclamation and replanting of the quarry is privately funded by the Gidwitz family, who has owned PikeView Quarry since 1972. The quarry, however, began more than a century ago in 1903 as a placer mine.
In 1940, it was expanded to provide limestone aggregate for the concrete used in building the U.S. Air Force Academy and 60 percent of the city itself. The quarry is part of the city’s history, but its future has long been a point of contention among residents.
Complicating matters is the length of time that has passed without frequent public updates. The project, run by the family’s company Riverbend Industries, has been delayed for years.
The pandemic alone set the project back 18 months. The reclaimed land was initially set for delivery to the city at the end of 2023, and now it's expected in 2026.
"Inflation caused some economic concerns. We had to make certain we had the funding to do this project from front to back. Selecting a contractor was a little difficult. During the economic boom that Colorado Springs had, everyone was busy. So getting people and equipment and getting, even something as simple as a loader after Covid, was difficult. We had to scramble and search and find parts and pieces to put this together," said Schnabel.
Some of those pieces are 16 prism sensors poking up from inside white pipes across the stabilized ground. They use lasers to beam back their location to a Leica surveying monitor multiple times a day. The readings are shared digitally so if there's any ground shift of more than a tenth of a foot, engineers are alerted.
"It started as a monitoring system, but now we’ve developed enough confidence in it that we’re using it as our test for the final stability of the slope," said Schnabel.
The lasers are an integral part of ensuring there is no movement in the quarry, which experienced a slide in December 2008 and then again in 2018.
The final slides prompted the Gidwitz family to end all mining work at the site.
"We've got a very strong test coming up in October. The rainfall that caused the original slide happened in 2008. Six months later, we had the slide in December of ‘08. We had a major rainfall this May, seven inches up here. In comparison, Colorado Springs probably averages 15 inches a year. We got seven inches in one day. That water is in the mountain. It's coming through here. And it's so far being released back to the stream," said Schnabel.
If the mountain holds when those seven inches of rain make its way through the mountain in October, Schnabel said that will give him 100% confidence in its future stability.
If it passes the test, next spring they'll begin to plant native trees and shrubs, keeping in mind the 40 big-horn sheep who call this ridge line home. Then comes a year of observation to ensure its stability and the final review by the Department of Mine and Reclamation before Riverbend Industries can offer the land to the city as a donation.
"So it will be at that point in time when the mayor will effectively say, 'Yes, we'll accept the donation,' and it would be the responsibility of the Parks Department to move forward with any sort of potential development of that for recreational amenity," said David Deitemeyer, senior landscape architect for the city's parks.
The future use of the land is uncertain. An initial plan, proposed in 2014, to develop the land into a mountain bike park, still has to go through the process of public hearings and government approval which could take years.
Renderings shared by the city show what FloRide Concepts put together to visualize how a mountain bike park may be laid out on the quarry site.
Deitemeyer noted, however, how the sport has changed since that idea. With the popularity of e-bikes, some may want to see a change in the design. Regardless, the plan will go to the public to generate ideas for its use, he said, indicating that the quarry land could become something other than a mountain biker's dream.
Even before the city decides what to do with the land, Deitemeyer said the parks department will likely hire a third-party contractor to essentially check the work of Riverbend Industries and ensure the reclamation was done properly and safely before acquiring it as city property. He also said, however, the city has not secured a contract for that work.
"It just takes time. It was a quarry that was utilized for the City of Colorado Springs, developed for the better part of 100 years. And so it'll take time to do the reclamation work properly and then it'll take time to make sure we understand the community's vision for what a bike park could be or what other recreational amenity could be in that space," said Deitemeyer.
The city already purchased land around the quarry for $8.9 million dollars which it plans to use to expand and eventually connect the trails throughout Colorado Springs.
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