Taking a tour of Southeast Colorado Springs in the most scenic of ways … on a bicycle
By Lily Reavis
The Southeast Express
Allen Beauchamp has one goal: getting “more butts on bikes, more often, safely.”
Beauchamp has been involved in the local cycling scene since he moved to Colorado in 2001. After serving as president of the Colorado Springs Cycling Club for four years, he opted to help create an education-focused, all-abilities-welcome cycling organization. Now, he is the chair of the Engagement Committee for Bike Colorado Springs, a program of the Trails and Open Space Coalition. He spends his free time organizing community rides, leading cyclists though Colorado Springs and educating bikers and drivers on road-sharing safety — as well as talking his friends and acquaintances into going on rides with him.
One week after meeting him, I found myself atop my own bike — a pale blue, hand-me-down roadie from my high school years — ready to join Beauchamp on a series of rides throughout Southeast Colorado Springs. The first, a nearly 12-mile tour, we completed as a pair; during the second we would be joined by other cycling advocates for a much shorter tour of the picturesque northern branch of the Sand Creek Trail.
Although the Springs is generally rideable, Southeast has historically lagged a bit in terms of infrastructure. And yet, for many Southeast residents, safe and accessible active transportation — moving between locations without a motorized vehicle — is critical.
Beauchamp and I began our long ride at the Deerfield Hills Community Center, deep within Southeast. He had an estimated ride map in mind, and we started off toward the Hancock Expressway.
“The wind was blowing in my face, the leaves were shimmering, I could hear the water from the creek. You see the beauty of Sand Creek.” — Joyce Salazar, RISE Coalition and El Paso County Public Health public outreach coordinator and cycling enthusiast
To be sure, there are some infrastructure challenges facing Southeast cyclers. Depending on the access point, trail access and connectivity can be a problem; pathways may abruptly end or be badly damaged; bike lanes can be in close proximity to heavy traffic; and there are some linkage issues between neighborhoods.
But like much of the neighborhood itself, a coalition of volunteer advocates, industry leaders and neighborhood enthusiasts is hard at work to resolve some of the issues — something Beauchamp said should be relatively easy, compared to the city’s other areas.
At the heart of Southeast connectivity is the Sand Creek Trail. The trail follows its namesake creek in a relatively straight line, and we rode it from a southern access point just north of Hancock, through a wide range of neighborhoods until we hit Wildflower Park.
Getting to the trailhead in the first place, however, was a bit of a thrill. After traversing Drennan Road, Academy Boulevard and the Hancock Expressway, including a rather hair-raising trip across a busy intersection, Beauchamp stopped and lifted first his bike, then mine, over a guardrail.
“This is the start of the Sand Creek Trail,” he said excitedly, motioning toward what appeared to be a deer track between a dry gulch and an apartment complex.
Ride with the wind
Joyce Salazar is quiet force coalescing several of the transformative programs in Southeast Colorado Springs. The 55-year-old is the community outreach coordinator for the multi-agency RISE Coalition as well as for El Paso County Public Health. If there is a community meeting, an educational program or a family event in Southeast, you can bet Salazar will be there.
She’s also in the process of getting a master’s degree in social work, and is very closely connected to both her family and her church.
Simply put, she’s a busy woman.
So when Beauchamp suggested he take her on a bicycle tour of Southeast, Salazar was reportedly a bit of a hard sell. She hadn’t been on a bike in decades, both Salazar and Beauchamp said.
“The first one I went on, I was on a Pike Ride bike,” Salazar said, referencing the white-and-purple publicly accessible bicycles found around town. “Those are great because the seats are low, but they’re heavy.”
And although there were a few mishaps, the trip made the effort totally worthwhile.
“The wind was blowing in my face, the leaves were shimmering, I could hear the water from the creek,” Salazar said with a grin. “You see the beauty of Sand Creek.”
One trip down the trail, Salazar said, and she was hooked. After that first ride, her husband asked her what she wanted for her birthday.
Her answer: A bicycle.
He didn’t believe her, so she repeated the request every time he would ask for gift ideas. Eventually, Salazar got her bike, and her husband followed suit.
“Now we ride together,” she said. “We go different places together, we are talking about buying a bike rack so we can [travel] places to ride together.”
Salazar has become such a cycling advocate that she even helped coordinate and promote a trio of free RISE Southeast Community Cruise rides.
The first outings occurred Sept. 7 and 21, with the third slated for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 5. Rides begin and end at the Southeast & Armed Forces YMCA, 2190 Jet Wing Drive, and span a 2.4-mile round-trip to Wildflower Park. Popsicles and snacks will be available. Children 14 and younger must be accompanied by an adult, and all riders must sign a waiver.
Oh, and bikes are available to borrow for those who don’t have their own.
For more details or to RSVP for the Oct. 7 ride, visit @RiseSoutheastCOS on Facebook.
Check it out
Who: The Colorado Springs Health Foundation, RISE Southeast, Bike Colorado Springs, Deerfield Hills Community Center and the Southeast & Armed Services YMCA
What: Community Cruise family bike ride
When: 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 7
Where: Depart from the Southeast & Armed Services YMCA, 2190 Jet Wing Drive
One trail, many scenes
Back on the south end of the Sand Creek Trail, we found a large clearing behind buildings. It was littered with trash and discarded items. A child-sized play kitchen lay on its side under a torn queen-sized mattress, old sweaters fell out of a tattered trash bag, and empty food containers lined the trail.
It’s an area known as “The Dump,” and it’s also an area that community advocates have taken on as a project. On Sept. 7, a group of about a dozen volunteers, with the help of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and the City of Colorado Springs, undertook a clean-up campaign of the area, the first such clean up day planned for the area. The next is scheduled for noon Oct. 5 and will leave from The Community Barbershop, Salon, Hub & Pub, 3750 Astrozon Blvd.
On the other side of the dump, Sand Creek Trail seemed to actually begin. Suddenly, we were on a 6-foot-wide, paved trail lined by trees and grass. Dogs barked as we passed behind neighborhoods, and a handful of bike commuters zipped by in either direction.
Soon, we were behind Sierra High School, riding past the main athletic field as the football team practiced. Around the corner, we entered Wildflower Park — Beauchamp’s professed favorite park in the Springs.
The trail continued in its paved glory for a few minutes past Wildflower Park. Soon enough, though, we hit its end and turned our attention to the area’s sometimes very busy streets.
In the lead
“By being … out here, people hopefully say ‘Oh, I can ride my bike too.’” — Larry Wilson, cycling advocate and Southeast resident
Larry Wilson is a resident of Southeast’s Satellite Condominiums and cycling advocate who has spent the past two years finding ways to connect the trails and low-traffic streets with roadways with bike lanes. An active member of the Colorado Springs Cycling Club, Wilson said he pedals through the community five to six days a week and utilizes Southeast trails to connect with the city.
“With the Sand Creek Trail that we have and the bike lanes on Jet Wing and the bike lanes on Astrozon [Boulevard], it’s an easy area to get around, once you figure out the connections,” he said. “For me, the biggest challenge is just getting across Academy.”
On a recent sunny Friday, Wilson was leading a handful of enthusiasts on a trip from Wildflower Park to the airport, a frequent touring ride that he calls “Scenic Southeast.”
And although it’s not uncommon to see the cycling fan out and about — we crossed paths by accident and he agreed to be interviewed — he said he still doesn’t know many other Southeast-area enthusiasts.
“I haven’t met a lot of other cyclists from the Southeast so far. It’s one of the things my wife and I have been talking about, trying to get more involved in the groups that are out here,” he said.
Nonetheless, Wilson hopes that by being a visible, biking presence, he may inspire others to give it a try.
“I try to include the bike lanes on my ride so people … both residents and people driving through, see that these bike lanes are being used by cyclists,” he said. “By being … out here, people hopefully say ‘Oh, I can ride my bike too.’”
Although navigable by bicycle, some of Southeast’s major streets leave a bit to be desired. During our first tour, Beauchamp and I rode on streets that had no pedestrian lights, low-visibility crosswalks, high-speed traffic and narrow bike lanes. We traversed rocky, glass-littered and broken sidewalks and hopped curbs to access sidewalks that didn’t have ramps.
At one point, our paved trail disappeared for a rocky so-called “desire line” — a popular path that is not a marked trail. This one happened to be on a slippery hill about 15 feet above the Sand Creek gulch.
Before we got to the end of the desire line, Beauchamp punctured his front tire. Luckily, his expertise made for a quick fix, and we took a neighborhood lane back to Airport Road. Airport began with a dedicated bike lane … which ended with no warning only about 2 minutes later.
Riding down the hill on a narrow, broken sidewalk, we approached Academy Boulevard.
The intersection was challenging, though ultimately less daunting than one of our early-trip ventures. The pedestrian light started blinking its “get out of the road” message only seconds after I began to cross.
The sidewalk we took was obviously not made for bicycles. It was narrow and overgrown with plants, sections were broken into crumbles and glass marked the way to the top of the hill like breadcrumbs. But, by the time we made it to the top, we’d reached Chelton Road.
The pedal peddler
Nathan Ramirez didn’t grow up on the back of a bicycle. The 18-year-old New Mexico native found his cycling community after moving to Colorado Springs.
Today, he is working to inspire other young cyclists by helming the Deerfield Hills Community Center’s bike library. He started as a volunteer with the center and was on the Panorama Park Youth Advisory Council, a group of youths who spent the spring and summer conducting surveys, gathering information and assisting in the newly approved master plan for the Panorama Park makeover.
He was hired to help with the bike library, thanks to a $120,400 grant the City Parks department secured, in part, to employ Southeast teens and train them in relevant job skills. In turn, the bike library, with the help of Kids on Bikes, gives neighbors and community members the opportunity to hop on a bicycle for free.
“They just go to the community center and ask, ‘Hey, can I [borrow] a bike from the library,” Ramirez said, matter-of-factly.
In addition, he serves helps recruit riders for the community cruises. He said many youths his age forgo pedal power, for various reasons.
“It’s probably just a matter of comfort or not enough group rides,” he said. “Some people just might not like the idea of riding next to cars or might not feel comfortable on a bike.”
That’s understandable, but Ramirez pointed out that Southeast streets — especially the major thoroughfares — are not the only way to get out and about.
“Right now we are on the Sand Creek Trail,” he said. “I guess it’s about knowledge, really.”
Ramirez rides pretty much everywhere, both solo and as a group rider with Bike Colorado Springs. Given the choice, he’d rather be in the saddle than in the driver’s seat.
“I definitely prefer the scenery of biking,” he said, as we cruised along the sun-dappled trail. “With driving, it’s a little more stressful.”
In the homestretchBack on our tour, returning to Deerfield Hills was generally easy after reaching Chelton. The road had no bike lanes, but the sidewalk was large enough to accommodate our cycles.
The sidewalk was not completely equipped with ramps, which caused my old bike some stress as I rode over curbs between each intersection and made me acutely aware of the area’s lack of accessibility.
Even so, when we pulled back into the community center parking lot just shy of two hours later, I was surprised that we’d made it back so quickly. Despite some of the challenges involved in navigating some of the more-busy roadways, the ride was pleasant.
Beauchamp and I completed an 11.8-mile loop, covering more Southeast territory than I ever realized was accessible by bike.
Southeast Express Editor Regan Foster contributed to this report.