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Kite Lake and Decalibron 14ers Improvement

Major Improvements Coming to Revitalize the Kite Lake Trailhead and Decalibron 14ers

ALMA, COLORADO – In a significant move towards sustainable outdoor recreation and conservation, the Kite Lake Trailhead, a popular access point for the Decalibron Loop in Colorado, is hoping to receive substantial upgrades by 2025. The proposed improvements are awaiting final approval from the US Forest Service, with multiple shovel-ready projects and infrastructure improvements ready to break ground very quickly.

This collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), local nonprofit organizations, and the town of Alma aims to address long-standing issues while enhancing the overall experience for the thousands of climbers who visit the region annually. 

Addressing Long-Standing Issues

Kite Lake is renowned as the gateway to the Decalibron Loop, which includes the peaks of Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. The area sees 20,000 to 25,000 climbers per season. However, extensive private mining claim inholdings and private ownership of the peaks have historically posed significant challenges, including landowner liability concerns and environmental degradation.

These issues have led to damage to rare alpine plants, loss of pika habitat, and community concerns over human waste management and emergency vehicle access. The narrow access road has also been problematic, with parking congestion often blocking emergency access and damaging fragile vegetation.

Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed new legislation thanks to the work of the Fix CRUS Coalition. The bill addressed landowner liability concerns and ensured the peaks would remain open and accessible, cementing the need for more improvements to manage the growing popularity of these iconic peaks.

A New Vision for Holistic Management

In September 2023, the Conservation Fund, supported by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative, purchased 300 privately held acres on Mount Democrat. This land is in the process of being transferred to the USFS for permanent management. This transfer marks a pivotal step towards a new, comprehensive approach to managing the Kite Lake Trailhead.

The USFS, along with local partners, has developed a next-generation infrastructure plan to sustainably manage Kite Lake. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process is advanced, with a decision expected and shovel-ready projects commencing by early 2024.

Investing in Infrastructure

Key infrastructure improvements will include:

  • Access Road Upgrades: Installation of an entry station near Alma, manned by volunteers, will provide educational materials and potentially manage use during peak times.
  • Parking Enhancements: Hardened parking spots along the access road and trailhead to protect vegetation and ensure emergency vehicle access.
  • Camping Facilities: Designated campsites with a fee structure to fund sustainable management, improving the overall camping experience.
  • Waste Management: Addition of three vault toilets to better manage human waste.
  • Trail System Upgrades: Stabilizing the trail system to prevent erosion and protect alpine vegetation.
  • Signage: Collaborating with the Sawatch Range restoration project for consistent messaging and user education.

Community Engagement and Benefits

The local community of Alma will play a crucial role in this project. A unique agreement with the USFS will see the town receiving camping fees in return for managing the campsite. This partnership ensures that local residents, including those from nearby Fairplay, benefit directly from the project. Addressing serious community concerns, this model is expected to enhance the region’s economic and environmental health.

Learn more in the USFS Project proposal here.

A Model for Sustainable Outdoor Recreation

The comprehensive improvements planned for the Kite Lake Trailhead aim to set a new standard for managing high-traffic outdoor recreation areas. By addressing infrastructure, conservation, and community engagement, this project represents a holistic solution to the challenges facing Colorado’s beloved 14er trails.

As the USFS and its partners work towards the 2025 target, Kite Lake stands as a model of sustainable mountain management, ensuring that the natural beauty and accessibility of the Decalibron Loop are preserved for future generations.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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