Monday, November 12, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park Seeks to Allow Bikes on the East Shore Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park is currently accepting comments on an environmental assessment to allow mountain bikes on a 2-mile section of the East Shore Trail. The path 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. 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.

Currently, bicycles are prohibited on all established trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The proposal to allow bikes on the East Shore Trail is being actively supported by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, as well as the Town of Grand Lake and the Grand County Commissioners.

The following is some background information from the NPS Park Planning website:
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) that will be used to evaluate whether bicycles should or should not be permitted on a two mile section of the East Shore Trail within the park. 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.

Multiple stakeholders, including wilderness advocates and Congressional staff, met in January, 2006, to negotiate significant components of proposed wilderness legislation for RMNP. 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. Bicycles are not permitted in designated wilderness.

Wilderness designation for RMNP occurred in April 2009 (PL 111-11). The 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. The designated East Shore Trail Area was a strip of land 1/8 mile wide along the west boundary of the park south of Grand Lake.

Following wilderness designation the National Park Service (NPS) had one year to identify an alignment line for the East Shore Trail. The alignment line was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior in 2010, and for the most part follows the existing trail. For bicycle use, some sections would need to be re-routed for public safety and to avoid sensitive natural and cultural resources. Upon submittal of the alignment line, the official wilderness boundary was located fifty feet (50') east of the alignment line.

PL 111-11 does not require the construction of a trail along the established alignment line. NPS conservation planning and environmental impact analysis policies and procedures are applicable to the decision making process for the trail.

In August, 2011, the Grand County Commissioners wrote to the NPS Regional Director, Intermountain Region, requesting that planning and compliance for the East Shore Trail be divided into two sections. The Commissioners proposed focusing on the northern two miles of the trail within RMNP. While not the proponent for bicycle use on the East Shore Trail, the NPS is providing funding for planning and compliance. A contract was awarded in July 2012 for the preparation of an Environmental Assessment that will consider whether or not bicycles should be permitted on the northern two miles of the East Shore Trail. Public scoping with a broad range of stakeholders will begin in August 2012, and the NEPA process is expected to be completed by the fall of 2013.
What are your thoughts on this proposal? Do bikes belong at all in RMNP? Or can hikers and bikers coexist in appropriate circumstances? If you would like to provide feedback and opinions, please click here to visit the park planning website.


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