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Easement Renewal May Reopen Trail through Air Force Academy

Air Force Academy graduates throw their caps into the air as F-16 jets from the Thunderbirds make a flyover, at the completion of the graduation ceremony for the class of 2015, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
Air Force Academy graduates throw their caps into the air as F-16 jets from the Thunderbirds make a flyover, at the completion of the graduation ceremony for the class of 2015, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

The U.S. Air Force Academy and El Paso County have reached an agreement on an easement renewal for the New Santa Fe Trail, raising hopes that the 7-mile section of the trail through the academy could reopen next year, a county official said Monday.

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, an Air Force Academy graduate who represents the district that includes the academy, said "it's not realistic to think we could get it (the trail) open in 2015 with putting together a plan, getting it vetted and approved, because there are less than three months left in the year."

He said he received an email from Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy's superintendent, that the academy was "committed to working with us to get the trail open."

The county's 26-year-old easement for the popular would have expired later this year, and the easement renewal is "a good sign" that the county and academy can develop a plan that will get the trail reopened, said Tim Wolken, director of the county's Community Services Department. He and Glenn made their comments at a community meeting about the trail Monday attended by more than 80 people that included trail users and trail advocates.

The 7-mile section of the trail through the academy was closed in May after Adm. William Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, ordered tightened security at all military bases nationwide.

Col. Ken Ohlson, commander of the 10th Mission Support Group at the academy, also cited an August 2014 listing in an English-language al-Qaeda magazine promoting jihadism and "lone-wolf" terrorists attacks that included the academy as a potential terrorism target.

Enhanced security measures that include signs, surveillance and other measures allowed the academy to reopen some areas under a waiver from Northern Command, but "one of the places we have not yet solved is the (New) Santa Fe Trail," Ohlson said. The academy is considering installed numbered signs along the trail so users could call in "suspicious activity" using the signs as to identify the caller's location to academy security personnel, he said.

Other ideas county officials are considering as part of a plan to reopen the trail include allowing regular trail users to become volunteer "rangers" with a badge and photo identification "as an extra security force" on the trail, said Peggy Littleton, another county commissioner at the meeting. Other ideas include installing several security cameras and increasing county patrols on the trail, she said.

The county also is seeking funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for up to 75 percent of $480,000 in repairs needed on the part of the trail on the academy grounds from damage caused by heavy rains in May, Wolken said. "A good portion" of the repairs necessary for the trail to be reopened could be completed by county personnel early next year with the remaining repairs completed later by a contractor after the trail reopens, he said.

County officials have studied rerouting the trail elsewhere within the academy and off academy grounds, which may be a long-term solution to keeping the trail open even when the military tightens security at its facilities, Glenn said.

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