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Forest Service Issues Favorable Recommendation for Bike Access on Continental Divide Trail in Colorado

For Immediate Release 6-18-2013
Contact: mark [dot] eller [at] imba [dot] com (Mark Eller)
IMBA Communications Director
303-545-9011 ext. 115

Last winter, IMBA issued an Action Alert urging mountain bikers to file comments on a proposed reroute of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) in southern Colorado. In a draft decision, the Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) and Rio Grande (RGNF) Forest Service offices recommended that mountain bikes should be excluded from newly built singletrack and be required to stay on the existing route, comprised of dirt roads, while hikers and equestrians would enjoy the new trail.

IMBA’s alert helped generate more than 900 comments urging the Forest Service to add mountain biking to the approved uses for the 31.2-mile trail segment in its final decision. IMBA staff joined mountain bike advocates from across the state, including the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Gunnison Trails, in calling for a shared-use approach that would include mountain biking. U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-R) added his voice after being contacted by IMBA, sending a letter to the Forest Service urging that bikes be included.

This month, the Forest Service offices issued two documents — an Environmental Assessment (EA) and a Decision Statement Finding of No Significant Impact — that support a shared-use approach for the proposed trail. Jason Bertolacci, IMBA’s newly appointed region director for Colorado and Wyoming, praised the Forest Service decision and said that when the new trail is built it will be a valuable resource for all trail enthusiasts. “Whether on foot, on horseback or on a bike, Colorado’s backcountry offers incredible recreation. Many of our local economies depend on the tourism that trails like this generate — it’s fantastic to see this attractive new addition moving forward.”

In reaching its conclusions, the Forest Service has done a commendable job analyzing the scientific literature that supports the inclusion of bikes on singletrack trails. The Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact demonstrates a thorough evaluation of current research and arrives at a reasonable analysis of the physical effects of mountain bicycles on natural surface trails.

The Forest Service also deserves praise for giving proper weight to of the commands of the National Trails Act. Citing that allowing bicycle access to the CDNST in, “multiple-use management areas,” (non-Wilderness) will accomplish the Act’s objective to provide, “maximum outdoor recreation potential for conservation and enjoyment...” (16 U.S.C. 1242). Addressing the value and necessity of volunteer efforts the decision documents state: “Following the direction in The Act (16 U.S.C. 1250) to use volunteers for the construction and maintenance will emphasize long-term cost effectiveness. Most of our non-motorized volunteer groups in the area are either mountain bike clubs or multiple-use advocates; therefore, the trail should be designed to accommodate those non-motorized uses to increase the chances for sustainable construction and long-term maintenance for which the forests have neither the staffing or funding to accomplish on their own.”

Mountain bikers are eager to take on the volunteer stewardship responsibilities that the Forest Service statements references. Nationally, IMBA’s grassroots network contributes more than 700,000 hours of volunteer service on public lands each year. “With access comes responsibility,” says Mike Van Abel, IMBA’s executive director. “I know that IMBA’s local chapters and clubs embrace that sentiment — in southern Colorado and around the globe, mountain bikers are eager to assist the Forest Service and other land managing agencies that oversee the recreational assets we all enjoy.”

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