[Cdt-l] mountain bikes on... mainly the cdt-l

Rick Ostheimer rick.ostheimer at sbcglobal.net
Thu Dec 13 23:30:04 CST 2012

"Steven Camp" wrote:

.....This reroute of the CDT will be following the Colorado Trail, which has always been open to hikers, horses, and mountain bikes except in wilderness areas.  ..."

While it is true that in this area the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail share tread on the existing route which consists mostly of roads with very little traffic and it is also true that hikers, horses, and mountain bikes have been sharing the existing route, the forest service proposal is about a new 31.2 mile section to be built mostly along or close to the actual continental divide and linking into trail near its southern end in La Garita Wilderness.  This will be new tread and according to the environmental impact statement (linked on the CDTS web site), the construction will be over multiple years.

Here's what the Environmental Impact Statement has to say about the reasons for choosing the non-mechanized alternative (e.g. no bicycles):

"Under all action alternatives, the proposed new location of this segment of the CDNST, and under alternative 2, proposed facilities, substantially enhance the recreation experience of the hiker/horseback rider using this segment of the CDNST. Instead of what was a series of interconnected, confusing and inconsistent travel ways, including roads and trails, the new trail is one single track trail from Lujan to the La Garita wilderness. Users will suffer no challenge in terms of navigation as in the current situation, will travel near or just below the true continental divide, and will enjoy a primitive to semi-primitive experience. Access points are spaced appropriately for support, but are not close together enough to be obtrusive. In short, it will become a true trail experience, consistent with the objective for the CDNST, and provides one more connecting link in the CDNST.

Under Alternative 3 the trail would be designated as open for mechanized/mountain bike use. Mountain bike use on the trail would have environmental effects.

Mountain bikes affect trail tread. In situations where trails climb or descend over forest soils such as are found along the proposed trail alignment (any trail alignment in this area located off of gravel surface roads), through repeated digging of mountain bike tire tread, trails are entrenched over time. The tread loosens soils, and subsequent rains wash it, creating down-cutting. Also, where the trail created by hiker and horse use is more likely to have relatively flat walking surface, the "cross section profile" of the tread of a trail used by mountain bike traffic is often rounded, or open horseshoe shaped. The consequence of this to the hiker and horse is that with each step, the foot is placed on an inward slope, turning the ankle and knee, and even hip, in an unnatural fashion. Long hikes on this kind of trail can result in unusual soreness in hikers or horses, and simply be uncomfortable. This can affect user experience.

Another effect observed in mountain bike trails in certain circumstances of slope and soils is the creation of a washboard or hummocking effect. Going uphill, each power stroke of the rider places uneven force on the soils, and over time can result in a hummocking effect, not unlike washboarding of roads but with much longer distances between dips. The gentle slopes of the new proposed location would be susceptible to this effect over time. The result for the hiker or horseback rider is that they find themselves walking up and down these dips to stay in the trail.

The social effects of mountain bike use on the trail include encounters by hikers and horseback riders with mountain biking parties. Mountain bikers travel much faster than hikers and or horses, and often "appear" quickly, causing hikers and horses to have to quickly yield. In downhill (from bikers perspective) situations this can even lead to safety issues. A biker coming around a corner at high speed can come upon a hiker before either party is aware of the other.

In general terms, bicycle use on the CDNST is not consistent with the overall objectives for the CDNST.


As we noted above, interest has been expressed by the mountain bike community in having the new trail designated as open for mechanized (mountain bike) use.

Alternative 3 was formulated to address this issue. Under this alternative the proposed trail would be designated for mountain bike use.

Addition of the new trail for mountain bike use would offer a challenging opportunity for mountain bike riders to use a single track trail for long distances, instead of having to ride the series of connected roads that is now the route. This would create a substantial new opportunity for those seeking this kind of recreation use of the National Forest. The roads making up the existing route are gravel and present some small hazard to riders from traffic. And the same navigational challenges that face hikers must be dealt with by bike riders. The recreation experience of riding roads is substantially different from riding a single track trail, especially a new single track trail. Some riders may actually prefer the use of roads and more developed surfaces and less of a feeling of isolation, while others seek that experience.

As part of the proposed action, even with the construction of a new trail alignment, the existing through route for mountain bikes would be maintained, and so the current opportunity is preserved."

What has not been noted in the EIS is that, were the new 31 mile single track section to be open to mountain bike use, one could envision a nice loop using the new single track outbound and the existing road alignment on the return.  Whether that would bring the kind of mountain bike traffic I observed when I hiked through the Monarch Pass area is a matter of conjecture.

Would adoption of maintenance of this 31 mile section by mountain bike clubs and their assistance in building it offset the additional maintenance?  That too is a matter of conjecture.

What is_not_  a matter of conjecture is the advocacy of the IMBA (International Mountain Bike Assoc) to have more sections of the national scenic trails open to mountain bike use.  They have also been advocating to have sections of the PCT opened to mountain bike use by asking their members to comment on these issues to the land manager (US Forest Service in this case).  There was quite an outcry over that in October over on PCT-L.

Just who is the IMBA?  According to their web site, they claim 30,000 individual members (at $30 each for a total of about $900,000); 750 clubs (at $50 each for a total of about $40,000); 200 retailers starting at $100 each (say a total of $50,000); and unlisted and unspecified corporate members.  Since those total contributions are about $1,000,000, that leaves "corporate members" contributing over $2,500,000 tax- deductible dollars to this non-profit whose stated mission is "Encouraging low-impact riding, volunteer trailwork participation, cooperation among different trail user groups, grassroots advocacy and
innovative trail management solutions."  IMBA's 2010 Form 990, linked on their web site, shows total contributions of $3,650,000 with  contributions from specific donors exceeding 2% of total contributions in the following amounts:  $85,000, $83,946, $140,000, $250,000, $374,250, $248,250.  IMBA had additional revenue of 1,258,000 from "trail consulting" and 64,000 from "Cycling events".  In 2010, the Executive Director had $122,000+ in compensation, and all other employees salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes of $1,400,000 the vast majority of which was allocated to "program services", that is, the promotion of their stated mission.

They say, "He who pays the piper, calls the tune."  It appears that the "corporate members" are using this organization to create an infrastructure or to open existing infrastructure (in the case of the PCT and, a yet-to-be-constructed reroute of the CDT) that is needed to enhance their sales.

(For comparison the Appalachian Trail Conservancy had gross receipts of $10,400,000, its top two highest paid executives had compensation of $230,000, and all other employee salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes came to $2,779,000 the vast majority allocated to "program services"._None_  of the ATC's revenue came from large donors as is the case with the MTBA.  Also_none_  of PCTA's revenue came from large donors exceeding 2% of total contributions.)

Now, I don't have any beef with IMBA's building mountain bike trails (which they do), nor with them encouraging low impact riding (which they do), nor with their encouraging trailwork participation (which they do).  However, I don't believe their approach to strong arm their way onto national scenic trails such as the PCT and CDT constitutes "cooperation among different trail user groups."  Nor do I believe leveraging their membership by those who "pay the piper" constitutes "grassroots advocacy".

I believe the forest service are sufficiently expert in understanding both the impact of mountain bike traffic on the trail section in question and on the objectives for the CDT outlined in the legislation which created it, and I support their conclusions and recommendations.  There's plenty of room on public lands elsewhere in the country for mountain bikers to enjoy their sport.  If any readers have reached this point and agree with me, please voice your opinion, not through the form on MTBA's website, but via the link on the CDTS website (www.cdtsociety.org).


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