Valley towns aim to enhance biker status
May 4, 2014
Aspen's going for gold this year while Carbondale aims to boost its bicycle-friendly designation from bronze to silver.
They are the only two towns in the Roaring Fork Valley, thus far, to take advantage of a national program that can boost cycling tourism.
The League of American Bicyclists runs a program called Bicycle Friendly Communities. Towns, cities and counties must fill out a lengthy questionnaire that assesses everything from miles of off-road trails to detailed engineering qualifications and bike safety courses for kids. Staff at the league grade the applications and determine if the applicants make the cut. If so, they give out bronze, silver, gold and platinum awards.
The Roaring Fork Valley lags behind many other areas of Colorado in seeking Bicycle Friendly Community status. Boulder and Fort Collins are among only four cities in the country to achieve platinum status. Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Durango and Steamboat Springs all achieved gold status.
“The communities that are bicycle friendly are really becoming known for it.”
Carolyn Szczepanski, League of American Bicyclists
Aspen was awarded the silver status in 2012, the first year it applied. Six other Colorado towns and cities share the silver rating, including Vail, Colorado Springs and Denver.
Carbondale earned its bronze rating in 2010, a designation it shares with five other towns in Colorado as well as Summit County.
All told, there are 260 communities in the country that have been awarded with some level of bike-friendly designation by the league, according to Carolyn Szczepanski, communications director of League of American Bicyclists.
There are two application cycles, one in the spring and one in the fall.
"We're seeing tremendous growth in every round," she said.
A community earns the designation for four years, then it must reapply. However, towns and cities can apply sooner if they want to try to improve their designation. Aspen's engineering and parks departments are working on an application to move up this year from the current silver designation to gold, according to city government spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. Carbondale's Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Commission is working on an application to boost its standing from bronze to at least silver, according to Recreation Director Jeff Jackel.
Carbondale has a thriving bicycle community that partakes in everything from moonlight rides to organized races on trails and roads on the fringes of town. The Rio Grande Trail goes through the heart of the town to provide a great way to commute and access other routes.
The exposure Carbondale has received from organized bicycle tours such as Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado has spurred return visits among cyclists traveling on their own, Jackel said. The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce tries to build off the town's growing reputation as a bike hub. Signs at the entrances to the town proclaim it as a Bicycle Friendly Community.
Carbondale scored about $95,000 in grants for the construction of a bicycle park that will feature a pump track, banked turns, bridges and various obstacles. It aims to break ground at North Face Park this summer and complete the facility by September. It will be a family-friendly park where parents can bring kids to work on skills, Jackel said.
That could be an important addition that boosts Carbondale's status from bronze to silver. The Bureau of Land Management's official designation of trails for cycling in The Crown, land near Carbondale, also could play into the assessment.
Szczepanski said there is "overwhelming consensus" among civic leaders that a bike-friendly designation reflects a high quality of life, interest in community health and helps capture young talent.
"The communities that are bicycle friendly are really becoming known for it," she said.
National Public Radio recently aired a story that said cities in Texas were adding to bicycling infrastructure because businesses want to locate in places where their employees are happy. Extensive trail networks and safe places for cyclists are perceived as a quality of life factor that makes people happy.
Snowmass Village, Basalt and Glenwood Springs haven't applied for the Bicycle Friendly Community designation, according to Szczepanski.
That could change soon.
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon, who has been in the position for about 18 months, said his daughter asked why Basalt didn't have its bicycle-friendly designation when she made a recent visit. She is assistant city manager in Shawnee, Kansas, which has the bronze designation.
"I'm going for the silver," Scanlon vowed with competitive zeal.
Basalt seems well perched to earn some level of designation. It's a popular hub for cyclists heading up the Fryingpan Valley or traveling the Roaring Fork Valley. It provides access to the Rio Grande Trail, the Old Snowmass Trail and Emma Trail.
Scanlon said there's no doubt that tourists who are cyclists are aware of the bike-friendly designation. That would help draw summer business, he said.
Snowmass Village also seems ripe for designation. An outstanding single-track trail network that rings the town and paved paths provide connections within the hilly, sprawling village. The town has an active trails committee and it hired a full-time trails manager last year, noted Kelly Vaughn, director of communications for Snowmass Village. She was uncertain why the town hasn't sought bike-friendly status in the past but suspected it will soon apply.
"I think it's important," Vaughn said. "It tells a person a little bit about what the community's priorities are."
Aspen earned its silver award, in part, because of a high percentage of bike commuters and bicycle-safety courses in all Aspen schools, according to the League of American Bicyclists. It also was cited by the organization for its bike-trail network, a Comprehensive Bike Survey and increased enforcement of its Share the Road program.
Aspen cyclist Erik Skarvan said the bike-friendly designation is important "to develop cycling tourism." Cycling is to summer business what skiing is to winter business, said Skarvan, who guides and teaches cycling through his Sun Dog Athletics.
"Developing that platinum status or that gold status is an important next step," Skarvan said. The city of Aspen will team with Pitkin County, the Forest Service and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to expand the network of single-track trails in Hunter Creek Valley and on Smuggler Mountain. Other trails will be rerouted. Aspen has added designated bike lanes to streets. The city also plans to make Castle Creek Bridge more accommodating and safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
"We're putting the pieces of the puzzle together," Skarvan said. "It's kind of fine-tuning from here out."