Bennet bill could lead to national historic trail designation for Pike’s Trail

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Brigadier General Zebulon Pike never reached the summit of Pikes Peak. But his place in history is secure.

And if the Pike National Historic Trail Association has anything to say about it, Pikes name will live on in even greater glory.

“To me, this is a slam dunk,” said Harv Hisgen, president of the Trail Association, who has been pushing to get a bill passed in the United States Senate for six years “It doesn’t cost that much to so the study. It comes out of their budget. It will answer all the questions they have.”

Hisgen and his crew of supporters have worked tirelessly on this project. They appreciate the support they have been given by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, as well as congressman Doug Lamborn and others.

But Hisgen, a retired teacher who resides in Conifer, is beside himself that this process is taking so long.

“Just put this bill on the table and let Pike have his day,” Hisgen said.

On July 31, Colorado senator Michael Bennet testified in front of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks. He spoke for about five minutes, getting support from Udall.

“Pike’s expedition - the first American-led effort to explore the Rocky Mountains - is an important piece of history for Colorado and for the American Southwest,” Bennet said. “A Historic Trail designation would ensure the trail’s recognition for generations to come and would create more opportunities for heritage tourism and related economic development in surrounding communities across Southern Colorado and the San Luis Valley.”

Prior bills died without hearings, but Hisgen said there is hope for this bill.

“We will have another hearing,” Hisgen said. “It might be in two years or it might be next week. We just don’t know.”

There is still no timetable on when the bill will be passed, if at all. If it passes the Senate, supporters still need a sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pike’s amazing story is of legend. He led an expedition party from St. Louis in 1806 to explore the west. His journey took him through seven current states (including Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado) and Mexico.

When the party arrived near present-day Pueblo in early November, Pike, as legend has it, turned north to climb a mountain in the distance. He took a route that today would parallel Interstate 25 to the south side of Colorado Spring. It turned through the present day Broadmoor area to Old Stage Road and followed a dirt road to Mt. Rosa.

Unprepared for the conditions, the party made it as far as Mt. Rosa to the southeast of “Pikes Peak,” and gave up the ascent in waist-deep snow. They had already gone almost two days without food.

Pikes journaled: “… here we found the snow middle deep; no sign of beast or bird inhabiting this region. The thermometer which stood at 9° above 0 at the foot of the mountain, here fell to 4° below 0. The summit of the Grand Peak, which was entirely bare of vegetation and covered with snow, now appeared at the distance of 15 or 16 miles (24 or 26 km) from us, and as high again as what we had ascended, and would have taken a whole day’s march to have arrived at its base, when I believed no human being could have ascended to its pinical [sic].”

The Pike National Historic Trail would be a 3,664-mile network of road signs and markers across seven states and Mexico. Hisgen believes it would bring even more notoriety to Pike’s amazing exploits and give the general the proper credit he deserves.

“Pike did more for this country than Lewis and Clark ever did,” Hisgen said. “He captivated our young nation with his accounts.”

After failing to reach the summit of “Pikes Peak,” Pike and his party headed south, and then west, to the upper Arkansas Valley and South Park. His expedition party was captured by the Spanish in the San Luis Valley and taken through New Mexico and Mexico. Pike was released into Texas and continued his journey.

Pikes expedition lasted 351 days. Hisgen notes that Pike spent 30.4 percent of his time in Colorado.

“I tell you what, if he had a better biographer than Lewis and Clark, and if he didn’t die in the War of 1812, Pike might have been president of the United States,” Hisgen said.