Drilling threatens popular Fruita bike trails
Cyclists who make regular pilgrimages from the Roaring Fork Valley to Fruita’s popular mountain bike trails might be in a for a surprise in the near future.Fruita’s diverse network of singletrack trails offer everything from gentle, rolling hills to steep plunges that make even the most grizzled veterans pucker up. But riders of all levels could get more than they bargained for if hazards like drilling rigs and flare pits pop up in the North Fruita Desert.The potential exists because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will offer gas leases on thousands of acres of federal land north of Grand Junction and Fruita in a May 11 auction.The revelation of the gas lease sale in early April sparked disbelief and “outrage” among cycling clubs, according to Chris Herrman, president of the Grand Junction-based Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. The group builds trails and works on cycling issues, often with the BLM.Herrman said the gas drilling threat is difficult to understand because the BLM recently concluded a four-year planning process which dedicated a portion of the North Fruita Desert to mountain biking.”The ink is dry for a year, and now there’s the potential for a gas lease,” Herrman said.The area of concern is along 18 Road north of Fruita. Popular trails like Chutes and Ladders and Zippety Do Da pull in riders from around the country, making Fruita nearly as popular as Moab.Herrman said land around the central trailhead and parking lot for the area, as well as land around campgrounds nearby, are protected from gas production. Anywhere else is open, he said, creating the potential for “drill rigs on top of singletrack.” Parcels could affect a trail known as Western Zippety and a portion of the Vegetarian Loop.Shawn Hunsberger, a personal trainer from Basalt, is one of hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley riders who regularly make the trip to Fruita. The 18 Road trails as well as numerous others around Fruita are open in the spring well before most routes in the Roaring Fork Valley are dry.”Zippety Do Da has got to be one of the most heart-pounding adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had,” Hunsberger said. He likes the area because there are trails for all levels of riders. The trails loop back to the main parking lot, so a person can ride, come back to a vehicle for a break and ride some more.When told about the potential for gas drilling in the area, Hunsberger said he would be opposed. “There’s plenty of places they can get oil without drilling there,” he said.That’s exactly the position of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. Its board of directors filed a formal protest over the inclusion of the parcels that could affect trails and asked that they be removed from the auction.”The COPMOBA board cannot stand by and let energy development destroy our quality of life and our sustainable economy … Our energy needs can be met, and the resources beneath the Grand Valley accessed, without destroying our quality of life and our economy,” said the organization’s letter to the BLM.About 50,000 acres of BLM land in Mesa County will be available in the May 11 gas lease sale. All lands offered were identified as suitable for lease in a Resource Management Plan completed in the 1980s, according to Mel Lloyd, a public affairs specialist for the BLM’s Grand Junction office. That includes the parcels in the North Fruita Desert.Lloyd said the BLM follows a “multiple-use” management philosophy which means its land can be available for everything from gas development to recreation. The agency cannot simply eliminate gas drilling from the 5,200 acres of the North Fruita Desert that have a mountain biking emphasis because of the precedent it would set. Special-interest groups would always seek exclusion of parcels next to their favorite lands.”If you honored all that, there would be nothing left for the common good,” Lloyd said.But Lloyd also said the inclusion of lands in a gas lease sale doesn’t automatically mean they will be developed. Exploration may not produce promising results. She also noted that about half of the 5,200 acres of the North Fruita Desert with a mountain biking emphasis have already been leased.Gas drilling and infrastructure development has occurred there since the 1960s with little visible affect on the area, Lloyd said. And if drilling of new wells does take place, the effects on trails would be under consideration when gas companies file applications to drill.”I would hope there would be a minimal disruption to recreation,” Lloyd said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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