Cycling groups divided over Wilderness plan
PITKIN COUNTY – Some mountain bikers formed a new group Thursday to voice their support for the controversial Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.
Carbondale architect Steve Novy said he formed Bike-Wild because he felt mountain bikers have been inaccurately perceived as “anti-Wilderness” and obstructionists in the debate over Hidden Gems.
The Hidden Gems proposal to add 379,000 acres of Wilderness areas in western Colorado has split mountain bikers and caused a broader debate among people with a passion for the forest. The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA) is partially opposed to the proposal. The association wants to preserve some areas for future trail development and it is opposed to some specific closures. Other cyclists have spoken in favor of the plan.
Novy contended there is a large “silent contingent” who have avoided the fray.
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“It’s been a little polarizing and a little difficult to get involved because it’s controversial,” he said. “I would like Bike-Wild to be a moderating voice in this.”
As of late Friday morning, 36 people signed up in support of Bike-Wild in the first 24 hours since Novy launched it. He is relying on word of mouth and one-on-one contact with cyclists to spread awareness of the organization.
Bike-Wild clearly intends to provide an alternative voice to RFMBA, Novy said. He started considering the idea of forming the new group after talks between the mountain bike association and Hidden Gems proponents “stopped last fall.”
“I just didn’t feel right about it,” he said of the division between the groups.
RFMBA spokesman Mike Pritchard said no one from Bike-Wild has approached his organization, thus they don’t have complete facts. Representatives of the association are meeting with leaders of Hidden Gems next week to seek compromise.
“Far from leaving the table, we have been waiting for the Hidden Gems proponents to take our counter-proposals as seriously as we have taken their proposal,” Pritchard said.
RFMBA supports the Wilderness designation for 94,000 acres in the Hidden Gems proposal and different designations that protect the land but allow cycling on another 170,000 acres.
“The proposal areas that we cannot support are those closest to densely populated areas, and those that allow for connections between existing recreation areas,” Pritchard said.
Novy acknowledged that he needs to study RFMBA’s proposal more closely. Leaders of Hidden Gems have suggested the mountain bike association’s position was created by “hard core” riders who don’t represent the majority of riders.
Novy said he created Bike-Wild independently of Wilderness Workshop. He informed them of his intent because he needed specific information about their proposal. Naturally, he said, they welcomed the plan.
Along with providing support for Hidden Gems in the political process, one of Novy’s primary goals is to educate mountain bikers about how Hidden Gems will affect them. Once they dig into the proposal, he believes they will see it takes very little away from them.
Citing information from Wilderness Workshop, Novy said boundaries were drawn to exclude 45 bike trails and about 227 miles from the Hidden Gems proposal. None of the major trails in the valley are affected.
“The campaign has dropped 13 percent of their original proposal, more than 59,900 acres, specifically for mountain biking,” Novy wrote to cyclists in an e-mail.
He also believes that the vast majority of cyclists agree that additional lands in western Colorado should be preserved as Wilderness. An awesome trail network already exists in the valley, he said.
“I think it’s OK to have places we can’t go,” Novy said.
Wilderness prohibits mechanized and motorized recreation uses. Novy said many cyclists are also backpackers, hikers and backcountry skiers who use Wilderness.
Bike-Wild’s plan is to help cyclists understand how Hidden Gems would affect them. A series of public meetings to look at maps is planned, with the first at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 23, at the office of Green Line Architects, 65 N. 4th St., Suite 5, in Carbondale.
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