On the trail: Easy fix for some cow-cyclist conflicts
Mountain biking is my passion, and I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the last remaining cattle ranchers in the Roaring Fork Valley, so it pains me that cows and cycling are so often in conflict. I don’t think they need to be.
I stumbled into a scenario Friday that I think typifies how a lack of communication leads to conflict, anger and solidifying of stereotypes.
I finished work around 4:30 p.m., so I headed to Basalt Mountain for a quick spin on the Mill Creek loop with a tail. I parked below the Forest Service lot to take advantage of a short, technical little singletrack trail. There were cows on public lands in the area, but the trail was in decent shape, and I didn’t give their presence a second thought. I climbed to the parking lot, grunted up the forest road and then rocketed down the Mill Creek singletrack trails before connecting to the Ditch Trail and heading back to the parking lot.
After getting back on the “tail” part of the ride, the singletrack below the parking lot, I found the cattle that had been browsing lazily in a sunny meadow earlier now were packed onto the trail like cars on Highway 82, pulverizing it to fine powder. I couldn’t fathom what attracted the bovines because there’s no water along that dusty old trail. Then I saw that the rancher who holds the grazing permit on the public lands placed at least two salt blocks just a couple of feet off the trail. That attracted the cows up from the meadow, roughly one mile below.
I fully understand that Basalt Mountain hosted cows for probably a century before mountain bikes entered the picture. I think I am a responsible mountain biker who navigates carefully when cows are present so as not to spook them. I’ll even dismount when necessary so the fat mamas don’t have to get up from a shady spot. And I certainly can put up with a little cow crap.
But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the rancher would put the salt licks so close to the trail. It seems like a perfect scenario to get a rancher, a cyclist and the range manager for the Forest Service together to identify potential problems and solutions.
In this case, placing the salt licks farther into the woods would prevent trail degradation as well as reduce stress on the animals — both cows and cyclists.
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