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Mountain Bike Use Subject Of Environmental Assessment In Rocky Mountain National Park


An environmental assessment is being conducted into whether a short, two-mile section of the East Shore Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park should be open to mountain biking. NPS photo.

An environmental assessment is being conducted at Rocky Mountain National Park to determine whether a short section of hiking and equestrian trail known as the East Shore Trail should be open to mountain bikes.

Though the study is just getting under way, the impetus for it goes back a half-dozen years, to 2006, when talks were being held over designating official wilderness in Rocky Mountain.

During discussion of proposed wilderness in Rocky Mountain, "Advocates for bicycle use, which included the Town of Grand Lake and the Grand County Commissioners, made it clear that their support of wilderness designation for the park was contingent upon the consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail," notes a Park Service narrative announcing the EA.

According to the Park Service, "(T)he East Shore Trail is an existing hiking and equestrian trail that runs roughly north/south along the east shore of Shadow Mountain Lake near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado (hence the name of the trail). The northern terminus of the trail is the East Shore Trailhead, which is located due south of the town of Grand Lake. The entire trail is 6.2 miles long and ends at the south boundary of RMNP. The East Shore Trailhead and the first 0.7 mile of the trail is situated on land administered by the USDA Forest Service where bicycles are currently permitted. The remaining 5.5 miles of the East Shore Trail is located within RMNP. Bicycles are currently not permitted on trails within the national park. The trail is also part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail."

Since bicycles are not permitted in designated wilderness, some compromises needed to be made if the East Shore Trail was ever to be open to mountain bikers. So when the wilderness designation was made official in 2009, "(T)he wilderness legislation excluded the East Shore Trail Area from the wilderness boundary to 'maximize the opportunity for sustained use of the Trail without causing harm to affected resources or conflicts among users.' Consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail was part of the legislation."

When the wilderness designation was defined, the official wilderness boundary was located 50 feet east of the East Shore Trail, a move that left open the possibility of allowing mountain bikes on the trail.

In August 2011, the Grand County (Colorado) commissioners wrote to the director of the Park Service's Intermontain Region asking that a two-mile section of the East Shore Trail be approved for mountain bike use.

As a result, the Park Service decided to conduct an environmental assessment on the proposal. Public scoping, a period in which the Park Service solicits public comments on a proposal, is currently under way. Among the questions being asked of the public:

1. Do you favor bicycle use on the two-mile section of the East Shore Trail currently under consideration? Please explain why you do or do not favor bicycle use on this section of trail.

2. If you do not favor bicycle use on the trail, can you suggest other alternatives to connect the towns of Grand Lake and Granby with a bike trail?

3. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, what are your recommendations to minimize conflicts among trail users (equestrians, hikers, bicyclists).

4. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, how many times are you likely to use this trail during the riding season? What would your destination be if you rode this trail?

5. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, to what standard should the trail be developed (e.g., how wide should it be and what surface should be used on the trail)?

6. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, what should be done to dissuade bicyclists from entering the adjacent designated wilderness where bicycles are not permitted?

7. Please share any other comments you might have regarding the East Shore Trail.

Comments are being accepted through September 21. The environmental assessment is expected to be completed by fall 2013. You can comment on this proposal at this site.


Mountain Bikes in National Parks is always contentious. It will be interesting to hear what this study finds. Too bad we have to wait a whole year.

All these years and paperwork to open a louy 6 miles of trail. Amazing that we have that many resources to waste on something this trivial.

Actually, I think it's only 2 miles Zeb.

Kurt, thanks for pointing it out.

Of course, the simplest solution would be to reallow bikes in wilderness. It'd solve all that nonsense.

The nonsense would be in allowing bikes in designated wilderness areas. We have National Recreation Areas for mountain biking. I don't want bikes in the National Parks, just as I don't want hunting in National Recreation Areas.

Of course I agree with Zebulon. No other country in the world puts itself through these hoops over these things. The Wilderness Act didn't ban mountain biking; the agencies did circa 1977-1984. Why they did so is mysterious, but at the same time they prohibited a lot of other things that Congress didn't intend to ban: footbridges, hitching posts, primitive lean-tos, etc. And they've since also banned things like portage wheels, hunters' game carts, baby strollers, and so on.

A visitor from, say, Brazil, New Zealand, or even Canada might think I'm making this up, it's so peculiar.

Part of the problem is that the agencies listened to people who think the wheel is the work of the devil in any wildland. The agencies' employees may once have sympathized with that viewpoint themselves, although I bet by now the more rational ones are rueful that they ever went along. In fact, this initiative is a welcome sign of that.

The view that the wheel is considered sinful among a vocal minority in the United States but nowhere else to the same extent is not surprising. The New York Times recently reported what mountain bikes know all too well, and that is that Puritanism continues to have a marked impact on attitudes and public policies in the United States—far more than most people believe. Here's the link:

Kudos to the NPS for moving ahead on this proposal. I suspect in 30 years we'll be able to ride anywhere a horse can go, Wilderness or not, under reasonable restrictions. That journey of a thousand miles begins with baby steps like these.

To accuse others of condeming the wheel as sinful ironically fetishizing it.

To accuse others of condeming the wheel as sinful ironically fetishizes it.

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