Rocky Mountain National Park decides to allow bikes on East Shore Trail
March 12, 2015
Mountain bikers may be rolling through the Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry for the first time ever later this year.
The National Park Service has found that mountain biking would have no significant effect on a 2-mile stretch of the East Shore Trail near Grand Lake.
The NPS finalized a Finding of No Significant Impact on Feb. 20, essentially sealing the deal for mountain biking to be allowed that section of the trail.
The East Shore Trail will be the first and only trail that allows mountain biking within Rocky Mountain National Park, though cycling is permitted on roads within the park.
"This required lobbying, this required a lot of federal engagement and state level engagement, so it's big," said Meara Michel, executive director of Headwaters Trails Alliance. "It's precedent-setting for our community and for the Park Service in general."
Additionally, a quarter-mile section of the trail will need to be relocated before mountain biking can be permitted, Michel said.
The relocated section will be considered a "new trail," meaning that the NPS must go through a lengthy rule-making process before mountain bikers can start making tracks.
"It will take many months unfortunately, and we haven't started on that process yet, but we are starting on that very shortly," said Larry Gamble with the National Park Service.
He estimated the process would begin within the next week.
Keith Sanders, president of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance and three time U.S. National Mountain Bike Champion lauded the decision.
"I think it's a real step forward to try to accommodate bikes and to recognize that bikes are one of the key forms of recreation not just here but nationwide," Sanders said.
Stakeholders first suggested allowing mountain bikes on part of the East Shore Trail long before most of the park was designated as wilderness in 2009.
The designation, under the Wilderness Act, precludes certain uses including cycling from designated areas.
Mountain biking was a factor in the decision to exclude the East Shore Trail from the areas designated as wilderness.
Though allowed in some parks, mountain biking is not a widespread use in the national park system, Gamble said. Grand County and other stakeholders have actively supported adding cycling to the trail's permissible uses, with the board of county commissioners writing to the NPS in support of the project in 2011.
The trail connects Grand Lake to Granby, which is important, Michel said. Eventually, cyclists in Grand Lake will be able to access the vast network of trails in the Fraser Valley via the Fraser to Granby Trail.
That meshes with the HTA's objective of connecting the communities within Grand County.
"Overall, when we look back on this I think it's going to be a really great thing for the community as a whole," Sanders said.
Included in the Feb. 20 document were NPS responses to comments and criticisms leveled at the idea during its public comment period. Some questioned the environmental impacts of biking on the trail. An earlier environmental assessment from the NPS stated that bikes would have no additional effect because "bicycle riders would pass through the wildlife habitat in less time than hikers and there would be less time for disturbance to occur."
Others voiced concerns about competing uses between bikers and hikers. The NPS stated that competing uses had been considered in its environmental assessment. Included in the FONSI are thresholds that limit the number of complaints bikers can receive before mountain biking is no longer allowed on the trail.