Continental Divide trail plan troubles users |

Continental Divide trail plan troubles users

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A U.S. Forest Service move to amend the 1985 Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) plan has sent waves of concern rippling through some user groups.

Under the proposed directive, the Forest Service could bar mountain bikes on sections of the 3,100-mile trail where they are currently allowed in nonwilderness areas, according to an action alert sent out by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

According to the association’s website ” ” the Forest Service directive should not discriminate against bicycling on the Continental Divide Trail. The mountain bike group sees the comment period as a chance to ask the Forest Service to include bicycling as a central focus and purpose for the trail.

“It is unfair to discriminate against bicycling when scientific research has shown its impacts to be similar to hiking and less than equestrian use,” the IMBA website states.

At issue is a section of the proposed rule that says, “Where bicycle use is allowed on the CDNST, consider establishing bicycle use prohibitions and restrictions …

Management practices and actions that would promote or result in increased bicycle use on the (trail) should not occur.”

Similarly, the Continental Divide Trail Alliance ” ” sent out an action alert to its members, warning that some of the proposed changes could open the door for more motorized use on the trail that runs down the spine of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico.

The trail spans most of Summit County, reaching the highest elevations along the entire route at Grays and Torreys peaks, near Loveland Pass. The route is east of Aspen, passing through the Leadville area.

In typically dense Forest Service jargon, the proposed changes were announced June 12 in the Federal Register as a proposed directive and request for public comments.

Though difficult to interpret, the notice indicates that the directive is intended to align the 22-year-old trail plan with current conditions on the ground. The trail crosses numerous national forests on its wending path through the Rockies, and many of the management plans for those areas have been changed since 1985.

Better information on the Forest Service plans for the trail is available on a special website that includes links to informative trail planning reports and other documents at”

In general, the concern among user groups seems to be that the Forest Service is reopening a can of worms by updating its trail management objectives. But federal regulations mandate the agency to make sure that its plans are up to date and reflect changing and new conditions on the ground.

For example, since the 1985 plan was developed, the Canada lynx has been placed on the endangered species list, and the White River National Forest has updated its management plan. Those changes need to be reflected in the Continental Divide trail plan.

The original vision for the trail focused on creation on a nonmotorized route.

Some of the language in the proposed directive that is of concern to trail advocates seems to suggest that motorized use may be OK “If it doesn’t interfere with the nature and purpose of the (trail).”

Another section suggests that aligning the trail on a road is acceptable if “the road is primitive in nature and offers a recreational experience not materially different in quality than that extended by a bona fide hiking and equestrian trail.”

The directive also calls for:

– Development of site-specific management plans for the trail on each national forest it crosses.

– Establishing monitoring programs to determine the condition of the trail.

– Identifying cultural and historical resources along the trail corridor.

– Identifying a carrying capacity for the trail.

– Protecting high-potential segments for future trail alignment.


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