New wilderness would close bike trails |

New wilderness would close bike trails

Joel StoningtonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN An unlikely foe has emerged for valley advocacy groups pushing for more wilderness – mountain-biking organizations hoping to keep longtime trails. Three trails in the Aspen area – two that parallel Hunter Creek and the Iowa Shaft trail from Smuggler Mountain down to Hunter Creek – are within a proposed wilderness area, which if approved, would block bike access.”That’s one of the few flat, beginner-level trails in the area,” said Erik Skarvan, owner of Sun Dog Athletics and vice president of the Aspen Cycling Club. “We’re talking about over 20 years of mountain biking tradition. If they want to talk about an inch of the trail, I would be the first protesting it, and I wouldn’t mind being a bandit.”The process of getting the wilderness areas approved won’t happen in the near future and the proposals are still rough drafts. In fact, the maps of the areas were sent to stakeholders, such as mountain bike groups and rock climbing groups, to be reviewed.That doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing when the groups sit down to talk it over. The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign came out of a recent push by groups such as the Wilderness Workshop to catalog roadless areas for wilderness consideration. The campaign has the support of the White River Wilderness Coalition, an alliance of regional groups, with the Wilderness Workshop in a central role. “Engaging in this dialogue with mountain bikers and finding common ground is an important phase that we’re in right now,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “We know there are some trails that are so highly coveted we are not going to include them in our proposal.” Shoemaker said that putting the Iowa Shaft trail in the proposal might have been a mistake, but he added that the other Hunter Creek trails would cut too far into the proposed area. However, Shoemaker did point out that Iowa Shaft is an illegal trail, and while his organization doesn’t take that position, it could come into play. “It’s always a tough situation because some of these are bandit trails,” said Mike Pritchard, president of the Aspen Cycling Club. “Do they get incorporated? It’s never that straightforward. We’re just here to make sure riding options don’t get closed down if they don’t have to.”Wilderness areas do not allow mountain bikes, though horses are permissible, a contentious issue for cyclists, considering the heavy impact of horses on trails. If a trail were to allow mountain biking, then the wilderness map would have to be drawn around the trail. However, many trails go directly into the center of a proposed area.For example, a midvalley trail – Arbaney-Kittle – would cut the proposed Sloan Peak wilderness area in half if mountain bikes were allowed. Another proposed area would make the Basalt Mountain bicycle loop impossible. “There are competing desires for a chunk of land and you weigh the values of one competing desire verse another,” Shoemaker said. “We’re trying to build grassroots support for this. It’s not until we have the grassroots support we’ll need that we will try to take this to Congress.”That could be as early as 2008, Shoemaker said, though he didn’t want to put a timeline on the proposal. When Pritchard looked over the proposed areas, he noticed conflicts with less than half of them. For the most part, there are only a few trails that would be affected, though some are popular and have been well used over many years. “There are places where we drew trails into our proposals,” Shoemaker said. “This is exactly why we’re going through this process, to make sure we’re not overlooking something.” Check out the proposed wilderness areas at Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is