An environmental assessment is being conducted at Rocky Mountain National Park to determine whether a short section of hiking and equestrian trail known as the East Shore Trail should be open to mountain bikes.
Though the study is just getting under way, the impetus for it goes back a half-dozen years, to 2006, when talks were being held over designating official wilderness in Rocky Mountain.
During discussion of proposed wilderness in Rocky Mountain, "Advocates for bicycle use, which included the Town of Grand Lake and the Grand County Commissioners, made it clear that their support of wilderness designation for the park was contingent upon the consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail," notes a Park Service narrative announcing the EA.
According to the Park Service, "(T)he East Shore Trail is an existing hiking and equestrian trail that runs roughly north/south along the east shore of Shadow Mountain Lake near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado (hence the name of the trail). The northern terminus of the trail is the East Shore Trailhead, which is located due south of the town of Grand Lake. The entire trail is 6.2 miles long and ends at the south boundary of RMNP. The East Shore Trailhead and the first 0.7 mile of the trail is situated on land administered by the USDA Forest Service where bicycles are currently permitted. The remaining 5.5 miles of the East Shore Trail is located within RMNP. Bicycles are currently not permitted on trails within the national park. The trail is also part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail."
Since bicycles are not permitted in designated wilderness, some compromises needed to be made if the East Shore Trail was ever to be open to mountain bikers. So when the wilderness designation was made official in 2009, "(T)he wilderness legislation excluded the East Shore Trail Area from the wilderness boundary to 'maximize the opportunity for sustained use of the Trail without causing harm to affected resources or conflicts among users.' Consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail was part of the legislation."
When the wilderness designation was defined, the official wilderness boundary was located 50 feet east of the East Shore Trail, a move that left open the possibility of allowing mountain bikes on the trail.
In August 2011, the Grand County (Colorado) commissioners wrote to the director of the Park Service's Intermontain Region asking that a two-mile section of the East Shore Trail be approved for mountain bike use.
As a result, the Park Service decided to conduct an environmental assessment on the proposal. Public scoping, a period in which the Park Service solicits public comments on a proposal, is currently under way. Among the questions being asked of the public:
1. Do you favor bicycle use on the two-mile section of the East Shore Trail currently under consideration? Please explain why you do or do not favor bicycle use on this section of trail.
2. If you do not favor bicycle use on the trail, can you suggest other alternatives to connect the towns of Grand Lake and Granby with a bike trail?
3. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, what are your recommendations to minimize conflicts among trail users (equestrians, hikers, bicyclists).
4. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, how many times are you likely to use this trail during the riding season? What would your destination be if you rode this trail?
5. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, to what standard should the trail be developed (e.g., how wide should it be and what surface should be used on the trail)?
6. If you do favor bicycle use on the trail, what should be done to dissuade bicyclists from entering the adjacent designated wilderness where bicycles are not permitted?
7. Please share any other comments you might have regarding the East Shore Trail.
Comments are being accepted through September 21. The environmental assessment is expected to be completed by fall 2013. You can comment on this proposal at this site.