Action Needed: Proposed FS Re-route of the Colorado Trail May Not Allow Bikes.

There is a re-route currently proposed by the Forest Service that will replace roughly 27 miles of dirt roads with 32.1 miles of new singletrack from the vicinity of North Cochetopa Pass (Hwy 114) to the La Garita Wilderness boundary. This encompasses parts of segments 17 and 19, plus all of segment 18 of the Colorado Trail (which is also the Continental Divide Trail for this stretch). At first glance, this sounds like a great idea, replacing some of the most boring miles of the entire CT with singletrack. The hikers that I spoke to along this stretch were also dispirited with the monotony of walking roads for multiple days along these segments.

Segment 19:

Segment 18:

While the trail layout in this area leaves something to be desired, the area is actually quite unique and interesting. I spent much of my time riding the CT in this area picturing where a singletrack re-route could go. It looks like the proposed re-route is about where I imagined one would be, click HERE to check it out.

Unfortunately, the “preferred alternative”, in Forest Service parlance, is one that will not allow mountain bikes along this section of new trail. Click HERE to read the complete assessment of the re-route and pay particular attention to “alternative 3″, which is the one which allows bikes on the re-route.

It’s difficult to understand how the FS came up with the preferred alternative being the one that disallows bikes. The area in question is not Wilderness, nor proposed Wilderness as far as I know. It’s cattle country, criss-crossed with ranching roads and large herds of cattle. It’s not the kind of area which needs protection from the small handful of mountain bikers that seek out the Colorado Trail in this remote sparsely populated area. Closing this section of new trail would mark the ONLY non-Wilderness miles of the Colorado Trail closed to mountain bikes and may set a bad precedent for other CT closures as well.

What can you do? First and foremost, email the Forest Service within the next couple of weeks during the public comment period HERE: comments-rocky-mountain-gmug@fs.fed.us Be sure to mention your support of alternative 3, which would provide non-motorized users with over 30 miles of new singletrack to enjoy. Secondly, get your friends to write in as well- share this post or send them the info on your own. Actively engaging the Forest Service does work- some of the trails slated for closure in the Crested Butte area were saved thanks to the efforts of concerned mountain bikers everywhere. Thanks for your time, and I’ll try to keep everyone updated on this issue.

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.  He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing.He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and his website is CrestedButteRealEstateAgent

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  1. It appears that this section would only add about 10 to 15 miles of singletrack to the current CT bike route. I’d assume the roads would stay open correct? That west road just south of the camping spur is what the CT bike route takes to the Dome Lakes. Find a way to get rid of the 50 or so miles of road from the Dome Lakes area to HWY 149, then we’ll get busy.

  2. David- from the map it appears that part of the existing CT would be decommissioned, so I’m not sure what that would mean for bike re-routes. Also, keep in mind that thru-biking isn’t the only way to ride the CT. Personally, I’ve been riding ALL of the CT, including parts of the CT that dead-end at the Wilderness, so this re-route would indeed add a lot of new singletrack miles to the CT.

  3. In the NEPA process, and especially with an EA (versus an EIS) not all public comments warrant consideration. Part of the criteria for publishing and responding to comments is that they must question the data, the analysis, or the completeness of the document. If you send an email, saying “bikes should be allowed” or “chose alternative 3″ it is not likely to do any good at this stage in the process.

    What you should do, is point to the fact that mechanized travel, i.e. mountain biking is presented in an unfair light. Part of this, is that the CDNST and accompanying environmental documents already provide for hiking and horseback riding as intended uses for this trail system. They are essentially “tiering” to previous documents to avoid re-analyzing these impacts, so they mention zero impacts of hikers and equestrians on the environment. Because of this, the discussion of mountain biking impacts on page 28 stand out as if they are separate and additive effects. Ideally, they should have analyzed the cumulative effects of adding mountain bikers, versus the already permitted uses. You should specifically mention that zero sources are cited in the discussion of mountain bike impacts on page 28. This points to a gap in the analysis. They will then have to justify these impacts by citing peer-reviewed journal articles, technical reports, or personal communication with experts. They will have a problem doing so, as very few sources exist, especially that paint mountain biking in such a negative light.

    Another thing you can point to is the low traffic on this section. This is a remote section of the CDNST and CT so it doesn’t get a lot of traffic, especially from bikers, so the resulting impacts should be low.

    I might also suggest citing sources that provide a fair and balanced discussion of mountain biking impacts, as well as trail building strategies that will limit the impacts of all trail users on the environment.

    I suggest

    Pickering CM, Hill W, Newsome D, and Leung Y-F (2010) Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America. Journal of Environmental Management, 91:551-562.

    and

    Webber P (Man. Ed.) (2004) Trail Solutions: IMBA’s Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack. International Mountain Biking Association: Boulder, CO.

  4. I have been putting a fair amount of effort and thought into my letter regarding this trail proposal and thought I’d share it here. Please pass it on if you find it helpful.

    A few issues I find important are that the ‘mission statement’ of the latest CDNST states that “Bicycle use may be allowed on the CDNST (16 U.S.C. 1246(c)) if the use is consistent with the applicable land and resource management plan and will not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the CDNST.”

    So I did a little research on whether or not bikes would be consistent with the use allowed in this area. The proposed new trail falls into the following land management prescriptions of 5.13, 5.11, 5.41 and 6.6 All of these numbers are basically the Forest Service’s way to label sections of land and list the certain characterstics you’ll find in this section as well as the types of recreational uses allowed. For instance, 5.41 is “Deer and Elk Winter Range” and motorized use is allowed. All of these prescriptions for the land on this trail proposal actually not only allow mtn bike use but they allow for motorized use. (Anything beginning with the number 5 is open to motorized.) So the fact that they are closing it to mtn bikes is a pretty big deviation from the types of uses that should be allowed here.

    Also, I did a little research on the inventory of mtn bike trails in the Saguache Ranger District – which according to their website – adds up to zero mountain bike trails. Not a single one. Not sure how true this is, but it’s what their website told me. Point being here that the Saguache Ranger District NEEDS mountain bike trails to meet the demand. My husband and I travel through this area all the time looking for bike rides. It’s a great place for camping and riding. Not the most scenic, but definitely peaceful.

    Because this trail borders the Gunnison NF as well, I looked at all the current mtn bike trails in the larger surrounding area – in the Rio Grande NF as well as the neighboring Gunnison NF. This info is all available on their websites. What I thought was true, was what I found out. A large percentage of the ”mountain bike trails’ listed in much of this neighboring region are shared with dirt bikes. I haven’t added up the total, but I would guess about 75 percent of what they say are open to mtn bikes are also open to dirt bikes. This is particularly true to the nearby Pitkin area as well as the rest of the SE Gunnison region and Del Norte, South Fork. I haven’t ridden the Longbranch/Baldy trail in years, but am I right in assuming this has seen a fair amount of motorized use?
    The point here is that when they describe in the EA on page 28, the damage on trails caused by bikes, I wonder if their experience is mostly formed from their observations of singletracks shared with dirtbikes. I think it’s important for this Ranger District as well as the other Rangers involved with this EA (from Gunnison NF) hear from a lot of mtn bikers that while we don’t mind sharing a few trails with dirt bikes, it is not the desirable experience for the obvious reasons. I am amazed at how many singletracks near Crested Butte are open to dirt bikes. It seems like in the last ten years, in Central and SW Colorado, so many old classic trails are now damaged mostly from a surge of popularity with dirt bikes.

    I also know from having lived in one place for twenty five years and biked on trails for that long, much of the problem with trail damage is due to outdated techniques on how to build trails. The CT Trail in my backyard is fifteen plus(?) years old and from today’s trail building standards it lacks quite a few features which would’ve kept it more sustainable (i.e. grade reversals). Today, the new trails in Breckenridge are built with sustainability as a top priority. So I would bring that point up in my letter, that we’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen years and how many new trails have been built in this area lately where the Recreation Rangers in charge of this project can really make this claim as to why mtn bikes damage trails?

    Lastly, I do believe that the main reason mtn bikers are not wanted on these trails has much more to do with social interactions then problems with trail conditions. While I think we’ve come a long way towards being more respectful, I am still bothered by how many mtn bikers I intercept on the trail who just don’t have a clue. I will suggest in my letter, that a serious effort is made at the trailheads here to sign and educate mtn bikers on trail ettiquette. I would take it a step further than IMBA’s historical yield sign and actually have a catchy sign which tells mtn bikers in words that they need to come to a stop and let oncoming hikers pass by. You don’t just slow down…we need to stop. I know that’s a pain, but I think we’d gain so much traction with the hiking population if we just put the brakes on and let them walk on by. And of course that uphill traffic always has the right of way.

    So there’s my two cents. Thanks for posting this. I know IMBA has a form letter circulating, but it sure helps to write your own personal letter. Comment deadline is now December 17th…

    Ellen

  5. Wow….awesome news….that letter took me awhile to write and I am psyched that maybe we made a difference. I cannot wait to ride this! If you hear about a trailbuilding workday or days for this, keep me posted.

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