Hidden Gems: Enviros pedal their position to mountain bikers
ASPEN – Leaders of an effort to add wilderness protection to 400,000 acres of public lands in western Colorado unveiled a new strategy Thursday to win the hearts, mind, legs and lungs of mountain bikers.
Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale nonprofit organization, launched an advertising and information campaign to try to show mountain bikers in the Roaring Fork Valley that the Hidden Gems proposal will have a minimal impact on the trails the vast majority of them ride.
Many mountain bikers are basing their opinions on “misconceptions” about the plan, said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop.
“We are on a footing now to try to correct those misconceptions,” he said. “Let me say very clearly that we think there is tremendous common ground between those of us working on the Hidden Gems and those folks who mountain bike in the Roaring Fork watershed.”
Wilderness protection prohibits mechanized uses, from Jeeps and sport utility vehicles to ATVs, dirt bikes and bicycles. The creation of more Wilderness must be approved by Congress.
The Hidden Gems proposal to add more wilderness lands in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison and Summit counties hit solid opposition last week from an advocacy group called Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. The group endorsed Wilderness protection for 30,000 acres surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley, but leaders left the door open to broadening their support.
Wilderness Workshop officials said the bike association’s position is based on the opinions of a few hard-core riders and isn’t necessarily indicative of the feeling of mountain bikers as a whole. Wilderness Workshop expects that once riders get educated on the facts, the “vast majority” will realize that Hidden Gems won’t affect their favorite trails and they will support the proposal, said Michael McVoy, a member of the organization’s board of directors.
Hidden Gems is facing strong opposition from motorized forest user groups. It might be critical for Wilderness Workshop to earn the support of the large ranks of mountain bikers to earn congressional approval of a Wilderness bill.
A full-page ad prepared by Wilderness Workshop lists more than 60 trails that will remain open to cyclists or are being closed by U.S. Forest Service action separate from the Hidden Gems campaign. The group is essentially saying, “We don’t have anything to do with the status of those trails.” Some of the most popular mountain bike routes in the valley – like the primary routes on Smuggler Mountain and in the Hunter Creek Valley, and Basalt Mountain – won’t be affected by Hidden Gems.
Wilderness Workshop claimed it has already compromised with mountain bikers by “giving up more than 35,000 acres of proposed wilderness to preserve 18 different mountain bike routes totaling 74 miles” in the Roaring Fork watershed. Routes that were given up include the Arbaney Kittle Trail between Lenado and Basalt, and Hay Park in the shadow of Mount Sopris.
The status of only six trails is unresolved, Shoemaker said. He said they are obscure trails that relatively few bikers ride. There are two trails in Coal Basin above Redstone; three trails in the Thompson Creek area southwest of Carbondale; and some spurs off the Rocky Fork trail in the Fryingpan Valley.
The Wilderness Workshops ad asks: “So, we’re throwing the question out to everyone who mountain bikes in our valley: Do you ride any of those six trails? And, if so, is being able to ride them more important to you than protecting the surrounding area from the encroachments of resource extraction, roads and motorized vehicles?”
Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association board of directors member and spokesman Mike Pritchard had a mixed reaction to what he heard about Wilderness Workshop’s new focus. On one hand, he welcomed Wilderness Workshop’s suggestion that it will continue to talk about its proposal. “There’s definitely still room to negotiate,” Pritchard said.
On the other hand, there is a wider gulf than Wilderness Workshop portrays. “I think it’s more than six trails,” Pritchard said. “I don’t have a number, but it’s definitely more than six.”
There are two primary reasons for the different assessment of how much terrain is in dispute. First, the bike association believes the Forest Service will closer fewer trails than Wilderness Workshop believes. The Forest Service will release a travel management plan for the White River National Forest next year that determines the closures.
Second, the bike association wants some lands left available for future trail development. “We’re here to advocate for the best trail system possible,” Pritchard said.
Wilderness Workshop believes enough public land is dedicated to trails and roads – more, in fact, then the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management can maintain. The Forest Service’s proposed travel management plan would allow mountain bikes to use 2,233 miles of roads and trails in the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest. The Hidden Gems proposal would remove 50 miles of those routes.
The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association is part of a coalition that wants some of the Hidden Gems lands preserved as a National Protection Area, a designation also dubbed “Wilderness with bikes.” That designation would provide protection against natural gas extraction and logging, and prohibit motorized uses to enhance wildlife habitat, but would allow mountain bikers to use the areas.
Other members of the mountain bike coalition are the Summit (County) Fat Tire Society, ECO Trails (Eagle County) and the International Mountain Bike Association.
“Everybody’s on the same page,” Pritchard said.
The test will be to fold that page into the Hidden Gems campaign.