The start of a community process
By Mark Reaman
Getting bike riders off roads and onto single track is the focus of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association’s five-year plan that was officially released this week.
CBMBA held an open house on Tuesday, May 7 to engage the public and obtain feedback on the proposal. The Crested Butte Town Council chambers was packed for the meeting, with approximately 80 people. Most appeared to appreciate the opportunity to look over and consider the plan even though both support and concerns were raised.
Gunnison District Forest Ranger Matt McCombs made it clear that portions of the plan would have to go through the federal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis and review but he emphasized that the process could be streamlined with broad community support for the plan.
He said it is not the whole plan that has to go through that process but any new trail. “Reroutes and reconstruction projects can be approved without the extensive NEPA process,” he explained. “Anything new like virgin trail would have to be analyzed through NEPA and have the opportunity for a robust public discussion. Any opportunity where there is broad community support is useful and can result in a streamlined process. There are ways to streamline NEPA but it takes community support.”
Denis Hall and Peter Dea both raised an eyebrow at the prospect of having the plan go through a NEPA process. “I appreciate the idea of streamlining the NEPA process,” said Dea. “I am nervous that the NEPA process will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time without a lot of value being added.”
CBMBA executive director Dave Ochs gave a rapid overview of the proposed five-year plan. He said the plan was a starting point and comprised of ideas that were not meant to purposefully insult anyone. He emphasized the focus was to get riders off the road and went through the proposed timeline for different projects to show how that was possible.
Ochs became particularly excited when describing the possibility of leaving on your bike from Crested Butte and riding single track all the way around Mt. Crested Butte and back to town. “Imagine going up Tony’s Trail to the Upper Loop and riding a single track connector to the East River Trail that completely goes around the mountain and ties into the CBMR single track. The East River trail would be an intermediate ride. That too is exciting for us to build. You could then ride back into town on single track. That’s the type of experience we’re looking for. It’s natural and off the road,” he said. “We’re not here to ride on roads, we’re here to ride single track—some of the best single track in the world. The point is to create better experiences through better trails.”
Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said he appreciated the idea of building some easy and intermediate trails.
Local rancher and guide Steve Guerrieri said while the extended East River Trail sounded like an “awesome idea in theory,” there were some problems with the plan. He pointed out that three livestock producers operate in that area behind Crested Butte Mountain and it could impact the elk herds that use the area. Adding new mountain bike trails back there might not make ranchers and sportsmen happy.
“Things like that need to really be discussed. That trail could be a concern for a lot of people,” Guerrieri said. “You need to sit down and have the hard conversations about that with the livestock producers and the sportsmen that will feel the impacts.”
Ochs said many times throughout the open house presentation that having those discussions was a main point of getting the plan before the public. He noted that the group had already eliminated a couple of trails originally proposed in the plan because of possible contentiousness between users groups. Those two trail ideas included a single track to connect Washington Gulch to Slate River and a single track connector between Lupine-2 and the Gunsight Connector. Several groups that have worked with CBMBA agreed that was the beauty of the process.
High Country Conservation Advocates public lands director Matt Reed said he appreciated CBMBA’s outreach and has always enjoyed working with the group but admitted there would be some “tough-love” discussions as a result of the plan. “HCCA will be advocating that the Forest Service implement an EA [Environmental Assessment] review for the plan with a robust public process,” he said. “Some trails proposed we are fine with, while with others we aren’t. We are looking for a process similar to what took place for Signal Peak.”
McCombs said he appreciated the public engagement work being done by CBMBA and emphasized that any plan is more easily approved with a thorough vetting up-front and community buy-in. “We hope that out of this comes a broadly supported plan that is implementable,” he said.
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory executive director Ian Billick concurred. He said RMBL is always looking at research management since some studies in the area have been going for decades and should be protected. But Billick gave a shout out to the work CBMBA has done, and especially its work through the Crested Butte Conservation Corps. “I really appreciate that, like the local ranching community, CBMBA sits down and tries to solve problems,” Billick said.
Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck said the county would be involved and could help facilitate some of the hard discussions.
Grant Bremer asked that CBMBA and the other mountain bikers give a nod to those who use motorized off-road vehicles such as dirt bikers. He said fees paid by such users have helped improve area trails like Block-and-Tackle.
Ochs said he believes the relationship between motorized and non-motorized users have improved a lot in the area.
Overall, the people in attendance appeared to hear the message that the proposal was a starting point and CBMBA wanted honest feedback so the plan could be molded to fit the needs and desires of the entire community. CBMBA vice president Steve Thompson said, “The ultimate goal of the process is to transition this from a CBMBA plan to a community plan.”