City considering allowing e-bikes on Emerald Mountain, Spring Creek
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Electric bikes and river use fees went before the Routt Recreation Roundtable on Wednesday.
The city is considering changes to its rules regarding where and what kind of e-bikes are allowed on city trails.
Currently, only pedal-assist e-bikes that reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour are allowed on the city’s two hard-surface trails: the Yampa River Core Trail and Walton Creek Trail. E-bikes are not allowed on soft-surface trails, such as the Spring Creek Trail and city-owned trails on Emerald Mountain. Other e-bikes, including throttle-assisted e-bikes, aren’t allowed on city trails.
The possibility of a policy change was instigated by the increasing popularity of e-bikes and the increasing frequency of e-bike riders cycling where city policy doesn’t allow them.
“The type 2 e-bikes, the throttle (assist) — you look everywhere, and you see them,” said Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson. “They’re on the Core Trail. They’re on trails. They’re on streets a lot too, which is great because that’s where they’re allowed. They’re not allowed on our trails. Again, the use is out there. It’s happening, and what we’re hearing from people is they want to use them. They want to follow the rules and use their e-bike, and the challenge is that our policy doesn’t allow it.”
At Wednesday’s roundtable meeting, Parks and Recreation staff gave an overview to representatives and answered questions from the group. Comments in the meeting were limited, as city staff asked roundtable members to comment on engagesteamboat.net.
Roundtable members also discussed a possible fee on tube sales or river use as the commission considers policy changes for river users to improve the health of the Yampa River. The Parks and Recreation Commission is taking input on both e-bikes and river use fees, as it will work toward recommendations for the Steamboat Springs City Council in the coming months.
The roundtable also discussed Routt County’s land-use master plan and an update to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mule deer herd management plan for the herd that lives on the southern side of Rabbit Ears Pass and South Routt County.
The city of Steamboat Springs is taking feedback on possible changes to e-bike policies and river use fees at engagesteamboat.net.
Federal public land managers in the room gave more information on where e-bikes are allowed.
In late August, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued an order requiring Interior agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, to allow e-bikes where traditional pedal bikes are allowed.
“The direction from the state office is to step back from implementation right now,” BLM Park Ranger Gary Keeling said.
At the Oct. 23 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, Keeling said that the local BLM office was allowing e-bikes on the trails it manages on Emerald Mountain, which includes the Beall, Rotary and Ridge trails.
The Little Snake Field Office is following its resource management plan, which considers e-bikes off-highway vehicles, and e-bike changes called for in the order must undergo National Environmental Policy Act review, Keeling said at the meeting.
“We all know it’s dynamic and we’re watching what the city does really close, so that’s what we have to do — is go through the NEPA process — to move forward.”
The U.S. Forest Service classifies e-bikes as motor vehicles and are allowed on motorized trails.
Hahn’s Peak Bears Ears District Recreation Specialist Brandon Kelly said changing policy to allow e-bikes on trails would also require NEPA review.
Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports Executive Director Julie Taulman, who represents adaptive users, said she hoped that discussions consider the impacts e-bikes have on people who participate in adaptive sports, adding that it’s “opened up a huge opportunity” for people with disabilities to use soft-surface trails.
Robinson said city policy allows people with disabilities to use electric-assist bikes on all city trails. Taulman asked for greater clarity of that policy on soft-surface trails.
Two Roundtable members spoke up in general support of e-bikes.
“It’s just like riding a mountain bike,” said Routt County Riders Vice-President Craig Frithsen, who represents mountain biking. “You go bouncing uphill, and the trail determines how fast you can go up. Your skill determines how fast you can go down. It didn’t seem to be — to me — that much more highly impactful than a normal bike on the trail itself. I know there are issues involved with that.”
He said e-bikes will increase in popularity and will take free rein if opportunities aren’t provided.
Trail running representative Deb Freeman said she thought the potential increase for conflicts among e-bike users and more passive users such as trail runners and hikers should be considered.
“When I have been on more remote trails, I have been passed by e-bikes, deep into the backcountry, and I found that unsettling personally,” she said.
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At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Yampa River’s temperature was 72 degrees at a spot in the Chuck Lewis Wildlife Area south of Steamboat. That’s about 15 degrees higher than the typical average.