Hikers, mountain bikers argue over separation in the forest
Human-powered recreation advocates disagreed Tuesday on whether mountain bikers should be separated from hikers in a new management plan for the White River National Forest.
Individuals in the group expressed their management objectives to U.S. Forest Service officials, who convened the meeting in a last effort to involve the public in the new management plan. The evening meeting, at the Glenwood Springs Ramada Inn, produced a number of suggestions for the plan.
Many of the objectives revolved around reserving places for nonmotorized use, away from snowmobiles and off-highway vehicles.
Representatives of two mountain bike groups called for all trail uses to be combined, while hiking advocates warned that mountain bikers are making trails unusable for others. Dawes Wilson of Vail, representing the Trail Action Group, started the discussion, saying designated wilderness areas excludes mountain bikers, and no more separation is needed on national forest trails.
“I think there are places where it’s appropriate to separate summer uses,” said Vera Smith, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, primarily a hiking and climbing organization.
“Then would you have trails where no hikers are allowed?” asked Wilson.
Smith noted that trail conflicts between bicyclists and hikers have already come to a head in more populous Front Range areas.
“On the Front Range,” Smith said, “all the trails close-in are getting to be de facto exclusive mountain bike trails.”
John Donovan of Frisco, representing the Summit Fat Tire Society, asked what happens if separation of use becomes policy.
“How do we decide who gets priority in the hierarchy?” Donovan asked. He observed that recent data shows mountain bikers are now the most numerous recreation group.
Bob Harris, an Aspen rafting, jeeping and mountain biking outfitter, said the forest needs more wilderness, or at least more areas where no motorized or mechanized recreation is permitted. The “mechanized” category includes bicycles.
Harris warned that the Forest Service needs to begin to do scientific studies to establish the approximate recreation capacity of highly used areas statewide. With no thought given to the capacity of an area, serious user conflicts could arise quickly when too much congestion occurs.
“If you hit it running full speed,” Harris said, “that’s a problem.”
Kim Hedberg of Eldorado Springs, representing the Backcountry Skiers Alliance, asked for a realignment of winter recreation policy regarding snowmobiles.
“What I’m really saying is areas should be closed unless they’re signed `open.’ “
Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle replied that the Forest Service won’t post the snowmobile “play areas,” but those areas will be indicated on forest maps.
Smith called for nonmotorized trails at different elevations and in various ecosystems. Currently, most wilderness areas, where motorized recreation is excluded, are at high elevations in Colorado.
Another objective Smith put forward is national forest access points that can be served by public transportation, to limit the amount of automobile traffic and the parking problems generated at trailheads.
Caroline Bradford of Redcliff told forest officials one of her desires for forest management is protection of riparian areas and wetlands.
“Travelways should not impact high-value biodiversity areas,” Bradford asserted. She also called for wider distribution of information recommending types of recreation for the most appropriate areas.
“We’d have fewer conflicts if more people understood which place is a good place to go,” she said.
Like the motorized recreation group, the nonmotorized group was concerned that its input would have no effect.
“I’d like to know how this will be regarded,” Smith mused. “Some of these things, we don’t have consensus on.”
“We weren’t expecting consensus,” Ketelle said.
“We’ll take the ones that fall into the category of what can be done, and use them,” said Dan Hormaechea, planning director for the White River National Forest. He added that some of the objectives expressed by the group might be offset by objectives of another working group.
“No one’s going to have 100 percent,” Ketelle continued. But, she said, the group can expect to see something that it contributed in the plan.
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