Area mountain bikers finally find a voice
Twenty-some years after mountain biking took the Roaring Fork Valley by storm, its disciples finally have a voice to look out for their interests.
A group of local riders this week announced the formation of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. The organization will be an advocate to make sure riders retain access to trails as the valley changes and grows. It also will work with public land managers to make sure there is trail development to meet growing demands.
Mountain bikers, by their nature, are an independent group, so they haven’t done a very good job organizing in the Roaring Fork Valley since mountain biking’s popularity soared in the mid-1980s, said Al Beyer, one of the association’s founders.
The lack of unity has probably harmed the interests of mountain biking in the past and definitely could hurt them in the future, said Kirk Hinderberger, another of the founders.
“Creating one unified voice will be valuable,” he said.
Other founders include Charlie Eckert, Mike Pritchard and Len Zanni. There is no fee to join. They encourage any mountain-bike rider from Aspen to Glenwood Springs to join by checking out their website, http://www.rfmba.org.
So far, there are about 100 members. They hope to have 1,000 by the end of the year.
At a meeting this week, the founders stressed they don’t want to promote industrial tourism or create an über-bike group that runs roughshod over other users of trails and public lands.
“We’re not interested in turning this into the mountain biking capital of the world,” Beyer said.
The association’s mission statement says it wants to “create and sustain the best possible mountain bike trail system and experience from Glenwood Springs to Aspen and connecting areas.”
One critical step in achieving that goal is creating a trails master plan. Eckert said the association will take an inventory of the valley’s trail system this summer. The master plan will include potential connections and extensions of trails that will be promoted with public land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
One project that would be enthusiastically supported is a trail through the Crystal River Valley, the founders said. That proposal is being fought by some private property owners.
The founders said they cannot say at this point how many miles of new trails they would like to see added. It would be like asking an architect how many windows should be in a new house before the work on the design is completed, said Beyer, who is ” by no coincidence ” an architect.
Beyer gave the existing trail network in the valley the grade of “C.” Although there are epic rides, the network is fragmented and many trails are accessed only by long, steep, time-consuming climbs, the association founders said. They see the potential to fill in gaps and make connections in that network.
The mountain bikers’ group also will get behind efforts to maintain existing trails. The Forest Service increasingly relies on volunteer labor as its budget gets reduced or absorbed into other areas, like fire suppression.
“If we’re ever going to get new trails, we have to show we can support the existing ones first,” Hinderberger said.
In addition to promoting the health of the trail network, the association wants to make sure mountain bikers maintain access to trails.
Hinderberger said he has lived in other towns where mountain biking was squeezed off existing trails or excluded from new trails, in part because riders weren’t organized. The association founders are concerned that issues like oil and gas development, special interests of private property owners and increasing conflicts on public lands from a growing population could affect their interests.
One particularly sensitive area for mountain bikers is wilderness ” public lands that have special protections, like a prohibition on mechanized uses. Beyer said the association won’t advocate encroaching into currently designated wilderness areas.
“We’re all wilderness advocates,” he said.
But the group also will be reluctant to surrender lands where they currently can ride, Beyer said. A wilderness proposal being studied by environmental groups could potentially affect popular trails in the Hunter Creek Valley, informally known as Aspen’s backyard.
Hinderberger said educating mountain bike riders and other trails users about how to co-exist will be another focus of the association.
Riders who join the association will be invited later this year to meetings to discuss the trail master plan. The group also regularly will share information on issues of interest via its website.
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Aspen and Pitkin County have the largest black bear population and as such, are hoping for a big portion of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant to help educate and enforcement rules around securing trash.