Bikes on Divide Trail trigger debate |

Bikes on Divide Trail trigger debate

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY – A move by the U.S. Forest Service to update plans for the Continental Divide Trail has triggered a debate on the use of mountain bikes along the route.

At issue locally is a 25-mile segment between Georgia Pass and the western border of Summit County. On this stretch, the CDT coincides with the multi-use Colorado Trail, where mountain biking has historically been allowed.

In some other areas, on the east side of the county, the CDT in some places coincides with roads where even motorized use is allowed, so mountain bike use is not an issue. The long-range plan is to reroute the CDT up into higher terrain, said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer with the Dillon Ranger District.

Some of the language in a draft regional Forest Service directive on the trail suggests that the agency will take a hard look at mountain bike use, based on the fact that the trail was conceived as being primarily for hiking and horseback riding. The comment period on the draft directive has been extended through Oct. 12.

There is room in the process to make allowances for site-specific exceptions, said Greg Warren, who is leading up the regional project. Warren said the general idea is to bring the planning framework for the trail into harmony with current on-the-ground conditions. He hopes the initiative will also be a big step toward completing the trail.

“I wouldn’t feel right taking a stand against them (mountain bikers),” said Ernie Werren, who’s been involved with the Colorado Trail since 1990. He said the local history is one of peaceful coexistence. The Summit Fat Tire Society has a history of trail stewardship along the route.

“I haven’t had any problems locally,” Werren said.

Mountain bikers, meanwhile, see the draft directive as a potential threat. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) wants the Forest Service to consider a shared-use philosophy on sections of the trail where mountain bikes have been used historically.

The original vision for the CDT was for hiking and equestrian use only, but IMBA thinks that vision may be outdated, based on the fact that it was conceived in the pre-mountain bike era.

The bike group points to a1983 amendment in the National Trails Act that addresses various trail uses.

“IMBA does not believe bicycling should be discouraged or prohibited on the CDT. More than two decades of bicycling on the CDT has shown that this activity does not substantially interfere with the nature and purposes of the trail and that all users can get along,” the bike group states on its web site.

The debate has also spurred questions about the relative impacts of mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking, with each user group pointing to studies that support their viewpoint.

The key to that debate really lies in design, said Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton. Grade and drainage are some of the most important factors in ensuring trail sustainability, regardless of the type of use.