Forest Service appeals to mountain bikers on trail closure |

Forest Service appeals to mountain bikers on trail closure

ASPEN, Colorado – The Aspen Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service has enlisted an influential local mountain bike organization to try to keep cyclists off an illegally constructed trail this year.

The Forest Service is seeking help from the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA) with the closure of the Balcony Trail on Smuggler Mountain, according to Martha Moran, a recreation staff supervisor at the Aspen Ranger District. The trail was posted as closed last fall to keep hikers and bikers off of it.

“The signs were stolen or thrown away within a week,” Moran said.

The trail was brought to the attention of the Forest Service by Wilderness Workshop last year after the conservation group found it while performing field work on the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. Wilderness Workshop urged the agency to close the illegally constructed trail because of potential effects on wildlife and environmental damage such as erosion.

After the closure with signs failed, the Forest Service was urged to mount cameras at the trail entrances to deter use and capture images of scofflaws for possible prosecution. Cameras are used on the Government Trail between Snowmass and Buttermilk when it is closed in the spring during elk calving season.

“It was suggested to me from several individuals to use [cameras on the Balcony Trail] but I decided they might get stolen,” Moran said.

Instead of the cameras, Moran decided to reach out the cycling community, starting with the 3-year-old RFMBA, which is active in advocacy, education, planning and trail maintenance. Moran and representatives of the association have started meeting on a monthly basis to discuss various issues, including a joint effort to get cyclists to honor trail closures.

“They are aware of our concerns, especially wildlife habitat since this area has approximately four bear dens and it is critical habitat for [other] wildlife,” Moran said.

RFMBA’s goal is to work with the White River National Forest staff to get the Balcony Trail, or a rerouted version of it, approved and included in the official inventory of trails, according to Mike Pritchard and Kirk Hinderberger, members of the organization’s board of directors. That process could be lengthy, requiring studies by the Forest Service.

Meanwhile, RFMBA will urge all riders, members or not, to comply with the closure in summer 2011, but there is only so much the organization can do, Pritchard said in an e-mail interview.

“RFMBA will put the word out (probably repeatedly) that the trail is off limits while it’s being studied, and that it’s in the riding community’s best interest to work with the White River National Forest to see if it can be properly opened in the long run,” Pritchard said. “However, both RFMBA and the [Forest Service] will be dealing with the reality that some people are going to do whatever it takes to ride a trail that they feel entitled to.

“Future closure signs will likely be torn down just as quickly as happened this fall, and physically blocking the trail entrance will be an interesting test to see what happens,” Pritchard continued. “So, a great plan is not in place, but RFMBA will do its best to exert influence on the riding community so that we can have a successful working relationship with the White River National Forest.”

Hinderberger said a successful relationship with the Forest Service is critical for mountain biking’s long-term future in the valley. The association is working with the Forest Service in a number of ways to strengthen the relationship, he said, including how to help with existing trails.

RFMBA hopes to collaborate with the Forest Service this year on projects involving the existing, legal trails in the Hunter Creek Valley, working with all user groups to reduce user conflicts, and continuing preliminary work on a future reroute of the Buttermilk Bowls trail between Buttermilk and Snowmass ski areas, Hinderberger said.

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