Vail cyclists want path open for winter | AspenTimes.com

Vail cyclists want path open for winter

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

A gate blocks pedestrians and cyclists from using the recreation path in Dowd Junction. The path is closed until May 15 for elk and deer migration. (Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily)

VAIL ” Intermountain resident Jen Pinkus commutes through Dowd Junction on Interstate 70 many mornings to her job in Avon.

“I always ride way to the side, but it’s really scary,” said Pinkus, an avid mountain bike rider and racer who tries to commute by bike as much as possible, even in the winter.

Usually commuters like Pinkus would use the Dowd Canyon bike path, but the path is closed for deer and elk migration until May 15. As a result, Pinkus and others say they resort to riding through the dangerous stretch of interstate during the closure, and they would like to see the path opened.

Dereck Fish, an avid road and mountain biker, said riding on the interstate is pretty dangerous ” he tries to avoid it in the winter ” but there needs to be an option for people commuting and riding in the winter months.

“Vail’s going green, and this is part of it ” providing a path for bike commuters,” Fish said.

The path has been closed in the winter since it was built in 2004, so this has been an ongoing issue, Fish said.

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He would like to see the path opened in honor of Mike Janelle, a local elite cyclist who recently died. Janelle rode his bike year-round and rode on I-70 when the path was closed, Fish said.

“He rode Dowd Junction all the time in the winter and actually got hit by a snowplow there once,” he said.

But environmental studies done before the path was built show that elk and deer need the area during the winter months, said Randy Hampton, spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“Without this stipulation (of the path closing) we might not have allowed it to be built,” he said. “Animals are extremely susceptible to stress in the winter months.”

The animals go south into the Eagle River corridor in the winter, he said. Because there are few other places in the valley that haven’t been developed, that is where elk and deer get their food in the winter, Hampton said.

The animals are extremely skittish of humans, and pedestrians and bikers tend to scare them more than cars, he said. Scaring the animals could push them onto the highway, where they would be a threat both to drivers and themselves. Also, any unnecessary stress to the animals could affect their breeding and birthing, Hampton said.

Usually when people hear the reasons why the path is closed, they tend to be understanding, he said.

“Of course people want to bike, but you give a little bit for living in the mountains and the habitat of wild animals,” he said.

Beaver Creek resident Chip Craft road bikes in the winter, but usually goes down to Eagle because of the closure. The reasons for the closure make sense, he said.

“I can understand that. But if we weren’t hurting the elk and the deer, I would always like to see the paths open,” he said.

Others, such as Vail resident Dawes Wilson, are not so sure that yielding to deer and elk is a good enough reason to close the path. While he realizes that the path is not just closed “to annoy cyclists,” he still thinks the path could be opened.

“How many elk and deer actually use it? And what would be the impact?” Wilson asked.

Closing the path does more than limit commute options for some valley cyclists. Fish said he turned down a job in Vail this winter because he would not have a way to get to work.

“I don’t have a car, and I don’t want to ride Dowd Junction,” he said.

Wilson commutes to his job at Pedal Power in Eagle-Vail in the summer and to his job as a ski instructor in Vail in the winter. He doesn’t have to commute through Dowd Junction when it is closed, but it definitely forces him to use his car if he needs to go downvalley, he said.

“I pretty much decided a long time ago that if I had to commute through Dowd Junction in the winter, I would move downvalley,” he said.

Pinkus owns a car, but tries to drive it as little as possible to save money on gas. The last couple weeks it has been broken down, leaving her no choice but to get rides from friends or brave the interstate.

“I feel bad for the elk and the deer, but I feel bad for the people who have to ride on the interstate, too,” she said.