Strike 2 for bike tour’s use of Rio Grande
ASPEN The staff of another public agency is advising its governing board to just say no to a large bicycle tour’s request to use part of the Rio Grande Trail one day this summer.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority staff advised its board of directors in a memo released over the weekend to prohibit use of the trail for special events, such as the Ride the Rockies bicycle tour.”Given current staff constraints and resources, staff recommends that the Board adopt a policy of not allowing special events on the Rio Grande Trail,” says a memo by Mike Hermes, the RFTA’s director of properties and trails.The RFTA board is scheduled to discuss the issue at its regular monthly meeting Thursday.The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails staff advised the Pitkin County commissioners last week to prohibit use of its part of the trail for the special event. The Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the issue April 17.The open space program manages the trail from Emma to the Aspen city limits. RFTA manages the trail from Emma to Carbondale.The controversy is over use of the pedestrian and bike path between Carbondale and Old Snowmass for one day when Ride the Rockies passes through the valley. About 2,000 riders will journey from Glenwood Springs to Aspen on Thursday, June 21, before heading east of Aspen over Independence Pass the next day.Event planners hoped to use the Rio Grande Trail, which was completed in the midvalley last summer. The trail was seen as an alternative way to get cyclists from Carbondale to Old Snowmass without using Highway 82. From Old Snowmass, tour participants would use Upper and Lower River Road as well as McLain Flats to get to Aspen.Hub of Aspen bike shop owner Charlie Tarver said he is baffled by the controversy.”These are not motorcycles,” Tarver said. “It’s not like they’re not supposed to be there.”Bike paths are amenities that are built for tourists as well as locals, so he doesn’t see a problem letting the tour use them.Tarver questioned why officials would want to create a safety risk by placing cyclists on the busy highway when an alternative route is readily available. Secondary routes – Catherine Store Road, Old Highway 82 and Willits Lane – are available for the 12 or so miles between Carbondale and Basalt, but those routes don’t have shoulders and still pose a safety risk, Tarver said.Ed Phillips, co-owner of Ajax Bike and Sports, believes the cyclists would be fine using Highway 82 and other roads. “That’s a lot of people on that narrow of a trail,” Phillips said.He noted that construction of part of the trail was controversial because of potential impacts on wildlife. He doesn’t want the large tour’s use of the trail to become an issue in the debate over the trail’s compatibility with wildlife.If state and local government agencies make sure the shoulder of Highway 82 is cleared of gravel and debris, it should easily accommodate the tour, Phillips said. The Colorado State Patrol typically places troopers at major intersections. Roaring Fork Valley residents are generally biker-friendly, so there shouldn’t be a compatibility issue, Phillips said.Dale Will, director of the open space and trails program, acknowledged there are pros and cons to allowing use of the trail. “It’s a close call for everybody I talk to,” he said.One issue that concerned him was conflicts between regular trail users and the hordes in the tour. “You’ve got little kids in strollers, dogs on leashes and that sort of thing,” Will said.Tarver said the potential conflict between the tour riders and the regular trail users pales in comparison to the potential conflict between tour riders and vehicles. For him, the decision would be easy.Ride the Rockies is designed as a fun ride rather than a race. Cyclists of all abilities participate in the annual, week-long event where daily mileage ranges from 40 to 100 miles. Many riders start early in the morning to avoid Colorado’s typical afternoon rain showers, so they would likely clear out of the midvalley by mid-afternoon on June 21.Ride the Rockies officials aren’t seeking closure of the trail for their event. However, it’s doubtful other trail users would want to share with 2,000 cyclists for the few hours of intense use, particularly people traveling downvalley, against the flow.Both Will and Hermes said the use of the trail for special events will be an ongoing issue rather than a one-shot debate for Ride the Rockies. They both want their boards to set policy so staff doesn’t have to make the call as requests arise.Ride the Rockies is rolling through the valley regardless of whether it can officially use the Rio Grande Trail. Even if the trail isn’t approved as the official route, no one will stop tour participants from using it rather than Highway 82, Will noted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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