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In keeping with the wild and wacky ways of our government, the recently-passed 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (the law which authorizes military spending) included some unrelated riders.  One such attachment was the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act, which establishes the Columbine Hondo Wilderness in the area between Taos and Red River, New Mexico.

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Thanks to the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act, it will now be legal to ride the stunning alpine trail to Lost Lake in the high mountains above Taos, NM. (photo: NewMexicoCamping.blogspot.com).

One unprecedented feature of the bill is the redrawing of an existing Wilderness boundary to move a portion which was inside the boundary, outside of it. The Wheeler Peak Wilderness lies immediately south of Columbine Hondo, separated by New Mexico Highway 150, Forest Road 58, and Taos Ski Valley.  The Lost Lake Trail, which lies mostly outside the existing boundary with a couple miles just inside the boundary, when combined with the East Fork Trail, would make a superb high alpine mountain bike loop and, thanks to this legislation, it can now be done legally.  This adjustment makes a correction to one instance of what is an abuse of Wilderness designation—the rendering off limits of miles of singletrack which lie outside Wilderness by making the Wilderness boundary reach out and grab some small portion of that trail.

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The singletrack to Goose Lake is now lost to cyclists, but they can still reach the area by means of a jeep road which protrudes into the Columbine Hondo wilderness. (photo: USFS)

IMBA and many other agencies involved with the crafting of this legislation are understandably trumpeting the success of this wonderful compromise.  However, not all is rosy in MTB-land.  The Columbine Hondo Wilderness contains 75 miles of singletrack which is now permanently off limits to mountain biking.  In what is becoming a disturbing trend, IMBA and others rave about “compromises” which are in effect significant net losses.  Among the many losses is the Goose Lake Trail, a singletrack route which has been ridden by cyclists for decades.  This route was such a part of New Mexico mountain biking that it was even an entry in the Falcon Guide Mountain Biking Northern New Mexico:  A Guide to the Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque Areas’ Greatest Off-Road Bicycle Rides by Bob D’Antonio, first published in 2004. Cyclists will still be able to access Goose Lake legally, but only by taking a jeep road which still exists as a narrow stem protruding into the Wilderness Area.

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The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act puts the Rierdon Gulch route off limits to cyclists. (photo: Knicker Biker Bike Shop, Great Falls, MT)

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which places the gorgeous cycling route at Rierdon Gulch in Montana off limts, was also attached to the NDAA.  At least the Columbine Hondo Act actually granted cyclist something they didn’t already have in exchange for what they were giving up, even if the losses far outweighed the gains.  However, as is more often the case, the RMFHA simply took a great route and offered nothing in return save for a promise to study opportunities for cycling access sometime in the future.  So there may be a study, that study may or may not recommend new trail for cyclists (I don’t believe for a minute this won’t have the same level of anti-bike advocacy that the Act itself had), and even if the recommendation is positive, the project will have to pass a lengthy EPA review, and then the USFS will have to find the money to actually execute the project (fat chance in the modern fiscal environment), and then take the time to actually do the work.  The anti-cycling forces tout this as some great compromise and even act like they have given some great sacrifice in even allowing this potential of a possibility of a maybe somewhere in the distant future into the bill in the first place.  Meanwhile, the loss of great singletrack is immediate and presumably permanent like the recent loss of so many other great routes in the Big Sky State.

For more on the magnificent Rierdon Gulch ride, check out this blog:
http://aspiringadventures.blogspot.com/2013/07/riding-rocky-mountain-front.html

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# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Hey John, thanks so much for writing about this, and taking a hard look at what actually happened with this bill passage. IMBA lauded this as such a great achievement, but when I read through the information myself, I had the exact same thoughts as you.

    Also, I think it’s worth noting that while you can now complete a loop, was there any reason you couldn’t have enjoyed at least MOST of that trail via an out-and-back route before? I know out-and-backs aren’t the most fun, but losing 75 miles of trail so you can gain the ability to turn one other trail into a loop? Yeah, the math just isn’t adding up here…

    • ACree

      Glad to see Singletracks posting stories like this that don’t just blindly repeat the spin IMBA puts on things. Yes, as Mark points out, it could have been worse. IMBA seems to never miss a chance to spin news to their own best interest though, and it gets really tiresome. Very nice to see a more objective view of this.

  • skelldify

    Thanks for pointing out that this isn’t all win, as IMBA would have us believe!!

  • Jared13

    John, I got an email from one of the Congressmen from Montana touting the passing of the bill. NOT what I wanted to read because of the RMFHA was attached to it.

    I have not done any research into it, but I heard that the Green and Rierdon Gulches were not part of the bill, just the connection between them. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the location of the trails to verify it myself. I missed out on riding it this year due my crash.

  • bioned

    I live in Idaho and watched in dismay as the proposed Boulder-White Cloud wilderness area threatened to take away single track trails here, too. I have had trouble convincing hikers that research shows mountain bike tires and hiking boots cause about the same amount of trail wear. A big part of the trouble comes from videos showing riders intentionally throwing up dirt at every opportunity. I ride single track several days a week for 9 months of the year, and none of the riders I know intentionally drift or cause excessive trail wear because we love our trails – and we always know there are other trail users nearby who might like an excuse to limit mountain bike access. We need to recognize that many of the videos we mountain bikers like watching are also watched by others and they can serve to confirm preconceived notions. I have really enjoyed the Peak to Creek series and have wondered if more videos showing trail advocacy, while still being entertaining, might not help our cause – or at least help in our defense at the negotiating table.

    • John Fisch

      Great comment. Our own “marketing” is our own worst enemy with regard to trail access, especially in the backcountry.

      On the plus side in your neck of the woods was the way that the powers that be agreed on a means of protecting your beautiful Boulder-White Cloud area for future generations without slapping it with the bib ‘W’ and excluding the eequally conservation-minded cyclists who have frequented those trails for decades. That is a model everyone should follow. We should hold it out as a precedent every opportunity we get!

  • chris96

    am I missing something? I have been reading about a bike loop trail from the Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail of the red river along Lost Lake. I don’t understand how you would get from Lost Lake to the TSV, unless you go to the end of the Red River west fork road and up the Bull of the Woods trail. However, as it happens the Red River west fork road is on private property west of the old

    • John Fisch

      Chris,
      I’ve not been able to find out how that is to be done either, but I may have an idea. My Sky Terrain trail map of the area shows a current non-system trail that runs from the end of Bull of the Woods road to the end of the road extending from FS58 (coming out of Red River going past the campgrounds and extending past the West Fork Trailhead).

      The actual loop would consist of FS58, FS 58a (east fork road), East Fork Trail (56), Lost Lake Trail (91) and Middle Fork Trail (487). The connection from TSV would simply be the stem on the lollipop. I think it’s being described as a loop from TSV simply because that’s where they think most folks would ride from.

    • AlienTrees

      It’s true the route you described is not accessible because a segment is on private property. There are no legal routes connecting TSV and RR. During the debate IMBA and the now-dissolved local IMBA group promised a connecting route would be built, despite the proposed route you mentioned crossing private land and another possible route which is now within the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, and Carson National Forest stating they have no funds nor desire to build any new trails in this area. The local FS employees have been known to turn a blind eye previously to anyone who was riding the entire East Fork Trail, so essentially we didn’t gain anything but IMBA loves to tout their “compromises” as successful when they aren’t. As of August 2015 the old wilderness boundary and “hikers/horses only beyond this point” signs were still posted along the Lost Lake trail, we were riding it one day and a couple hikers made a point to angrily tell me we weren’t allowed to have our bikes on the upper portions of the trail leading to the lake, clearly they didn’t know about the Hondo Bill. Our Senator who unethically pinned the bill onto the NDAA, Martin Heinrich, has lost a lot of support in this area because he directly went against local and National sentiment that didn’t support the wilderness proposal, instead he chose to promote the minority hunting and fishing, and wilderness advocacy groups who fund his campaigns. And now he is promoting even more wilderness designations in areas which have historically been multi-use, these areas don’t contain bike-specific routes but there are roads on which motorized use is currently permitted. I see it as a direct abuse of the Wilderness Act’s intent, a ploy to create a reputation as a land steward once he loses his office to someone who is willing to represent all of their constituents and not just a few groups and individuals who have $ to donate.

  • chris96

    John:
    I checked my topos + Google Earth. There is a route starting just north of Bull of the Woods Mtn. and connecting with the Lost Lake trail just above the Middle Fork Lake waterfall. The stretch is about 1 mile and drops about 500 ft from BOW. However it is x-c and would require building some kind of a trail.

    • AlienTrees

      This is the route that includes the private land and it is not legally accessible. From the RR side there is a clearly marked boundary with a gate and largish signs which are unmistakably noticeable. The property is also for sale, I think for about $5 million according to local real estate magazines

    • AlienTrees

      There is land above the private property which would be suitable for a singletrack route connecting the Middle Fork trail with the Bull of the Woods trail, it isn’t within the wilderness boundary, I’ve talked with local Carson National Forest employees about this and they’ve stated that there are no funds nor desire to build any new trails in this region. It’s only speculation but I wouldn’t be surprised if certain local land owners and politicians have some influence towards that position.

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