Sunday, August 25, 2019

CBMBA proposing to make a fat bike paradise

46 miles of winter grooming under review by Forest Service

By Alissa Johnson

The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service to groom 46.6 miles of winter trails for fat biking and other winter recreation. The goal is to build on momentum created by events like the Fat Bike World Championships and to provide a positive recreational experience for all winter trail users.

CBMBA executive director Dave Ochs sees the proposal as an opportunity not only to serve the growing fat biking community, but to provide access to winter trails that can also be used by other types of user groups for a true multi-use amenity.

As Ochs sees it, groomed winter trails are “a winter trail recreation amenity that every user loves… snow-shoers, dogs, walkers, everybody enjoys this maintained surface.”

The CBMBA proposal includes 9.4 miles of groomed trail in Mt. Crested Butte, including the North Village, some Crested Butte Mountain Resort trails and the Gothic corridor; 9.9 miles out Brush Creek; 9.3 miles out Slate River; and 18 miles out Cement Creek.

According to Ochs, the latter would encompass current grooming efforts by Camp 4 owner Al Smith. While Smith can officially groom out Cement Creek so his family can reach their cabin, fat bikers, snowmobilers, walkers, snow-shoers, Nordic skiers and, of course, dogs all use the surface. Signage lets folks know how to use the trail, and multiple user types coexist.

Ochs and the CBMBA board of directors want to see that same approach used across the valley, and while the idea grew out of the recent growth of fat biking, the proposal is intended to serve a wider user group.

“[Crested Butte is] a summer trails destination. Let’s be a winter trails destination, too,” Ochs said.

Ochs believes it makes sense for CBMBA to move into winter trails management as an extension of its summer work. According to the CBMBA website, the organization is responsible for 450 miles of local single track, but those trails don’t just serve mountain bikers.

“We should almost be CBMBTA,” Ochs said, with that “T” representing trails. “There’s no doubt about it—a lot of what we’re doing can be used by all users.”

Of course, the grooming would also provide a valuable amenity for fat biking. According to Ochs, this upcoming winter will be the fifth year that local riders have focused on creating opportunities for winter fat biking, and those efforts have demonstrated a growing interest in the sport.

“Last year, Fat Bike Worlds was the icing on the cake…” Ochs said. “We got more media support in the weekend of Fat Bike Worlds than the entire winter and the entire ski season.”

Ochs sees the opportunity for fat biking to complement other types of winter recreation—a family that comes to the valley for five days might ski three, and if the snow isn’t great, fat bike one day and snowmobile the next. It would also build on Crested Butte’s roots as a mountain biking Mecca.

“With the energy and momentum from Fat Bike Worlds last year, it’s ours to lose. We’re at the forefront, in the Rockies and Colorado, of fat bike opportunities and winter trail opportunities,” Ochs said.

Now that CBMBA has submitted the proposal to the USFS, Ochs is focused on building community support for the proposal. So far he’s received verbal support from Snow Trackers, and the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce and Ian Billick, executive director of Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, have written letters of support. Many individuals have written letters of support as well. On Tuesday, September 20, Ochs met with the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council.

Ochs told the council that one individual has reached out to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in opposition to the proposal. As a result, he believes that showing community support is important to the success of the proposal.

He also explained that one area that could be a bit contentious is the idea to groom the Gothic corridor. Grooming there would require bringing a snowmobile into the area—something that some believe goes against an arrangement by the Gang of Nine, which designated specific drainages for motorized and non-motorized use.

Ochs emphasized that, “This would not be opening it up to motorized access by any means.”

He also believed it would provide a better experience for trail users. “If we had an organized and controlled maintenance schedule to go and groom and leave a better surface, it would provide a better experience for everybody,” Ochs said.

He handed out a copy of the original Gang of Nine agreement, which indicated that the road between Mt. Crested Butte and Gothic is under county jurisdiction and therefore not subject to the agreement. He also handed out the letter of support from Billick.

Ochs received only one question from the council. “Have you had any pushback about the potential of avalanches?” asked councilmember David O’Reilly.

Ochs responded that he’s planning to work with RMBL and the Crested Butte Avalanche Center to stay on top of avalanche risk, and the council agreed to send a letter of support for the proposal.

Time will tell how the idea goes over with the broader community. For now, the Forest Service is conducting its review of the proposal.

According to Aaron Drendel, recreation staff officer with the Gunnison Ranger District, the Forest Service is screening the proposal. The agency tries to acknowledge receipt of special use permit requests within 30 days and respond within 60 days, though that’s not always possible. He did not have any information pertaining to the complaint.

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