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Mountain Bike Use Subject Of Environmental Assessment In Rocky Mountain National Park


An environmental assessment is being conducted into whether a short, two-mile section of the East Shore Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park should be open to mountain biking. NPS photo.

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.


Boy do people get crazy with their post. Using trails for mutiple use is a good use of a trail. I have hiked this trail and found it to be serene, peaceful and a nice way to see the lake without the view and noise of highways , houses etc. The problem I see reoccuring with trails involving hikers, bikes, dogs etc. is the people that don't take in consideration of the other types of use. Bikes move very fast and they do create a quick reaction for people hiking and dog walking. I bike, hike and walk dogs on trails. I too would like to see some trails open to bikes and dogs. How do we do this and keep that serene, quiet, slow pace that is so wonderful to the hiker. Should it be certain days for different uses? Can we do something on a trial basis. If we allow bikes, can we allow dogs on leash? Let us look at the problems and try to find solutions to enjoy our trails. Get off your soapbox and work toward solutions. Lets enjoy, maintain, and work together for everyones sake.

[size= 14px; line-height: 18px]Okay, not mechanically-propelled.[/size]

As far as I can tell, it's the human on top that's propelling the bike, so to be semantically correct, it'd be human propelled (just like a hiker). But since you're arguing the mechanical angle, are you saying that kayaks and carbon fiber poles are not mechanical? And at any rate, the degree of mechanization has really nothing to do with impact and preserving parks for future generations.

To the other anonymous, the impact angle is disputable. What has more impact, a bike that travels at 6-7mph average and leaves the park during the day, or the thru-hiker that camps out in the backcountry? I won't even mention packstock expeditions. :) I don't disagree that impact has to be managed, but exclusion seems a rather poor management method. Finally, one could argue that the impact should be measured in hours of presence in the park, not in miles covered. All in all, it does not seem much of a justification for excluding bikes.


Congrats on trying to ride Mammoth! I can only hope to be in that good a shape in a few decades. From what I heard, Mammoth is no picnic as it's super loose and dusty. Interestingly enough, I find it easier to go down really steep trails (within reason) on my bike than on foot.

Anonymous of 10:38 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2012, writes:

[M]aybe a permitting system could be used for mountain biking, similar to how it [is] used for backpackers to reduce impact.

I'm confident that all but the most mule-headed mountain bikers would be happy with that arrangement.

I know what you mean when you express worries that mountain bikes could turn back country into front country. Where that's a possible risk, if it is, the permit system you mention, or alternate-day use, should work to avoid any issue that would bother a reasonable person. I think it's a risk, if at all, mainly for the relatively small units that comprise the relatively crowded national parks, but not a concern for most of the much larger national forests. In a number of Wilderness zones within the latter, where the Forest Service won't allow bicycles, the problem is the opposite: too few users and too many trails being grown over and disappearing. Allowing cyclists would benefit them.

Excellent and insightful comment, Roger. (I don't know how to say that without sounding patronizing, but please be assured I don't mean to be.) And congratulations on being so adventurous in your mid-70s. The country could use a few more million people like you.

I agree it would be needlessly costly to have bicycle-only trails in national parks. Better to divide uses by day of the week on popular trails, don't you think? I was looking at pictures of the crowded Cascade Pass Trail in North Cascades National Park. There, I think you could have mountain bike Tuesday or some such, and then leave the other six days for hikers and backpackers.

If one looks at all of the linked-to pictures, you'll see an armed ranger in a number of them. For some reason, I find that extremely off-putting in that bucolic and scenic setting. Does anyone agree, or am I too sensitive?

I have always opposed nature lovers mentioning spiritual values because it gives opponents one more reason to hate them. It has reached the point where everything has become a matter of faith including politics and the bike issue. Might as well waste your time discussing religion. August 6th I rented a mountain bike in the Mammoth Mountain ski area. It cost $81 for the bike, helmet, and the gondola ride to the top. I took the easy route which starts at ll,053' and ends at 8,900'. I had not been on a bike for several years and having never ridden a mountain bike downhill I found it challenging. After doing a header over the handlebars twice in the first few minutes and falling sideways several times I learned not to use the front brake in soft sand. For awhile I thought I would have to walk the bike the seven or eight miles down the trail but finally was able to ride it on relatively level sections of trail. Except for the center the sides of the trail were very soft pumice and dirt. Several falls and slides down the steep mountain sides resulted in only minor injuries. In places the tread was rocky and bare roots were common. The trail is closed to hikers as they would be incompatible with the heavy downhill bike traffic.

The bikers were very polite and friendly and I had to apologize several times for being in their way. There were a few families and small children on the trail. That trip was followed by some 8 to 12 mile hikes in USFS wilderness. There was no sign of mountain bike use inside wilderness boundaries. There was horse use and mountain bikers are correct in saying the physical impacts of horses are far greater than that of bikes. I stopped in Breckenridge for three days on the way home and hiked one popular trail for both hikers and bikers. It was a quiet visitor day and I saw no conflicts in part because the trail was as wide as a narrow road and the bikers were very considerate.

A few thoughts from my very limited survey:
1. In both areas there is a lot of money in mountain biking.
2. There is an abundance of trails for all user groups.
3. The Mammoth Mountain downhill bike trail would be decent hiking up and down but that would be totally incompatible with biking. There are too many bikes and although I didn't see extreme bike speeds the trail is too narrow and the sides are steep both up and down. It would be difficult for hikers too step aside and partially deaf individuals like myself would not hear them.
4. A complaint by hikers is that bikers can't enjoy the scenery and the flowers, but my brief experience led me to believe that an experienced biker on an easy trail has as much time to glance around as a hiker but hikers can stop faster to look at the view or flowers.
5. Aside from their physical impact horses move about as fast as hikers and a string of horses and hikers going the same direction would seldom see each other.
6. National parks could provide an abundance of trails primarily for bikers but that is an expensive proposition.
7.I think hikers would avoid using narrow trails heavily frequented by bikers. An occasional biker would be OK for most of us but large numbers would not.

Please note no mention of spiritual values.

Hunter: definitely has an impact on the environment.

Mountain biking has a pretty obvious impact on wilderness. Take for example a 30-mile loop trail into the wilderness. Hiking, by the very nature of the practice, limits the volume of humans in this 30-mile wilderness. Moutain biking conceivably brings a much higher volume of people into that 30-mile loop, obviously presenting a greater impact on wilderness--i.e. it turns backcountry wilderness into front country, much the same as a road would. But maybe a permitting system could be used for mountain biking, similar to how it used for backpackers to reduce impact.

not human powered

Okay, not mechanically-propelled.

[size= 14px; line-height: 18px; background-color: #ffffff]A hunter or jet skier could of course say the same thing.


Slippery slope argument... :) Jet skier: not human powered. Hunter: definitely has an impact on the environment. Good try though.

It's actually pretty funny. Whenever I call out peopel on their anti bike bias, the argument keeps shifting.

I came to the conclusion that the opposition to biking comes from 2 points of view: 1) the enviro fanactic who sees national parks and wilderness as some kind of new age outdoor cathedral that cannot accomodate a bicycle (it's not rational, but then again we're talking about faith here) and 2) current users who just don't want to share but are not willing to publicly admit it (obviously, not something to be proud of).

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