Steamboat hosts Colorado Mountain Bike Coalition summit to promote mountain bike advocacy
In an effort to expand and promote access to mountain biking in the state, the Colorado Mountain Bike Coalition met in Steamboat at the Bud Werner Memorial Library for its annual summit on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The Colorado Mountain Bike Coalition is made up of several statewide mountain bike advocacy organizations and trail associations that includes the Routt County Riders.
Several land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service were also in attendance for the summit.
The group discussed several topics over the course of the seven-hour meeting including the regional partnerships initiative, e-bikes, trails and wildlife, growing recreational population and non-system trails.
While the Colorado Mountain Bike Coalition is not a decision-making body and doesn’t create legislation on these topics, the meeting was used as a way for each mountain bike advocacy group to discuss successes and challenges that it faces and ways of overcoming any issues.
Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders, said it was refreshing to hear from other organizations. Even the topics that do not pertain to Steamboat are important when people from Routt County ride in other areas of Colorado.
“Getting too stuck in our local context is a mistake for a lot of organizations statewide,” Martin said. “All of our beneficiaries and members are people who travel, people who recreate around the state pretty broadly. People aren’t sedentary creatures that are involved with our organizations so keeping the contextual statewide viewpoint in mind that not everything in Steamboat is important.”
While most of the day was spent discussing statewide issues and hearing from groups outside of Steamboat, the final session in the afternoon was focused on recreation planning in a changing era, which was presented by Brendan Kelly, the Forest Service project lead for Steamboat’s Mad Rabbit Project.
Kelly dove into the Forest Service’s recent changes in planning for trails and how those changes are involved in Steamboat and the Mad Rabbit Project.
He explained that the Forest Service is a multiple-use agency that manages with a number of resources in mind. Its job is to conserve plants, animals and trees while also considering recreation, grazing, timber and more.
When new trails are proposed, the Forest Service uses a number of resource specialists who all analyze the effects of the trails and adjust the projects to lower any impacts. This is the process currently underway with the Mad Rabbit Project, which was proposed in 2018.
“Basically over the course between then and now, our research specialists have been working on the effects of those impacts and in particular within the Steamboat community, and the biggest concerns are impacts to elk populations,” Kelly said. “There’s new research out there that even non-motorized trails have impacts to elk, that they will avoid a trail up to a certain distance because they view humans as predators.”
Kelly and the Forest Service are working on finding a balance between providing more trails around Rabbit Ears Pass while also minimizing the impacts to wildlife and all other resources.
On top of this, the people of Steamboat, among many other mountain communities in Colorado, are asking for a broader diversity with trails in the area in light of the popularity of e-bikes.
Kelly and the Forest Service are trying to adapt to the increasing use of trails in the area, as well as the newer mountain bike technology, to try to ensure trails will be available for all types of riders.
“We know from the conservation side of things that we can’t just build unlimited new trails to solve the problem of increasing population,” Kelly said. “There has to be a balance.”
Kelly thinks one potential solution is updating and improving upon current trail systems while avoiding new development to further the Forest Service’s goal toward conservation and protecting wildlife.
As more clarification has come out from the Forest Service on managing e-bikes over the past year, the district has begun to offer over 100 miles of motorized trails. However, to start including e-bikes on non-motorized trails, there would have to be an environmental planning process.
These discussions brought clarification for all advocacy groups in the Colorado Mountain Bike Coalition, and Martin said there was a better understanding on how trails can be created. This sparked conversations about the best ways for the coalition to proceed in its mission to expand access to biking trails.
Members of the coalition made sure to take advantage of their time in Steamboat and participated in group rides throughout the weekend that Martin thinks were instrumental to the summit as a whole.
“The great part of it is the team building and the relationship building that happens in the outdoors,” Martin said. “We’re all people that work for trail and biking advocacy, and that is a place where we all find common ground to be the most outgoing version of ourselves in the outdoors.”
To reach Tom Skulski, call 970-871-4240, email tskulski@SteamboatPilot.com.
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