Built in 1964, the Pikes Peak Summit House is too small to handle the half million visitors it receives each summer.
In addition, improper thermodynamic engineering during construction has triggered a melting of the permafrost, resulting in an uneven and unpredictable sinking of the building. By 1992, its foundation was so compromised that the structure had to be supported by dozens of heavy-duty jacks.
The summit of Pikes Peak is, as 14,000-foot mountains go, extraordinarily large. While most such summits are steep pinnacles, with barely enough room for half a dozen climbers, the summit of Pikes Peak is a broad, rocky plain covering nearly 5 acres.
During the 134 years since the first structure was erected on the Peak, the summit has become home to a motley assortment of undistinguished structures, as well as a series of gravel parking lots.
In addition to the aging Summit House, there’s an observation platform that rests atop a sturdy concrete building containing utility infrastructure, the crumbling remains of the 1873 summit house, a communications tower festooned with antennae and dishes, a usually-deserted metal building that is home to the Army’s “high altitude medical research facility” and a fuel tank farm surrounded by a cyclone fence.
There also are two high-backed stone benches, with the legend “Pikes Peak Summit” prominently displayed. These are designed as photo ops for visitors, although neither appears to be at the actual summit.
Debris are scattered on and around the summit — pieces of twisted metal, old timbers, unidentifiable objects and a midden of tin cans that might date from the last century.
Convention and visitors bureau CEO Terry Sullivan said that a new Summit House and a cleaned-up summit would dramatically increase visitation.
“If you took Lyda Hill’s (Garden of the Gods) visitor center, and put it on top of the peak, visitation would immediately go up by 25 percent or more — mostly from locals,” he said. “Most local people have never been to the summit. We really need a new Summit House — if it’s called America’s Mountain, it’s deserving of something that leaves a favorable impression. I don’t know how you pay for it, but I think there must be some money hidden in Washington somewhere that we could pry loose. I don’t see it as the responsibility of the concessionaire; it’d be a good project for (Rep.) Doug Lamborn.”
Asked whether the slogan “Pikes Peak — America’s Mountain” might be more accurate if changed to “Pikes Peak — America’s junk yard,” Vice Mayor Larry Small concurred.
“It’s presumptuous to say that any local asset is America’s asset,” he said. “But we do know that Katherine Lee Bates didn’t go there to buy imported Chinese souvenirs. She went there to be inspired by the grandeur of nature.”