In an attempt to reduce conflict and improve the overall user experience, Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) will try a one-year, bike-only designation for two trails.
The county, located on the west side of Denver and stretching from past the Buffalo Creek trail system up to just south of Boulder, manages 48,000 acres of open space and 28 different parks. The county parks host about seven million recreational visitors each year.
“We have hard and anecdotal data, that says occasionally, there’s conflict with hikers, and dog walkers, that have conflict with mountain bikers,” says JCOS’s stewardship manager Mike Foster. “The goals of the pilot program are to improve the experience, reduce conflict, and see if there’s continued support for this type of approach.”
This is the first time JCOS will designate a trail in the county as bike-only. Out of the 252 miles of JCOS trails, 16 miles of it are hiker-only. The new program will designate about three miles as bike-only. All other trails remain multi-use for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
The lowest part of the Longhorn trail in White Ranch Open Space, about 7/8 of a mile, will be part of the program. Foster says that although Longhorn is a multi-use trail, it’s predominantly used by mountain bikers.
“It was a natural fit to look at this trail and designate it as mountain bike only,” he said.
A new, two-mile addition to the Dakota Ridge trail will also get the bike only designation in the pilot program. Because it’s not complete yet, Foster says the department expects a different perception of the program on this trail since it will debut as a bike-only trail.
During the pilot program, JCOS will administer and collect user surveys to measure visitor experience at the parks, and will monitor and assess environmental impact on mountain bike only trails.
Foster said they decided against alternating days between hikers and mountain bikers like the Centennial Cone Park trails outside of Golden.
“We’ve found that approach incredibly challenging to enforce,” he said. “A lot of visitors don’t pay attention to the signs in the parking lot and there’s a lot of conflict on the days that people break those rules.”
Erin Chamberlain, a hiker who recently visited the Centennial Cone Park said she was last there on a hiker-only day, and it was a good experience. She doesn’t see bike-only trails as a problem for her.
“I’m more of a hiker, but my husband bikes. I think it’s perfectly OK to have mountain biker only trails,” she said. “There’s plenty of trails here to go around and keep it safe for everyone.”
Her friend and hiking partner agreed with her.
“[Jefferson County] does a great job with the open space,” said Lisa Mckendry. “It’s nice as a hiker to know that no one is coming at you and it’s nice as a biker to let it go, especially on a directional trail.”
Kevin Reynolds, a Jefferson County area mountain biker welcomed the news, also.
“We’ve gotta try it out. A lot of times when I’ve been out at Red Rocks or Morrison Slide, you get the running groups and you have no chance,” he said. “Of course, you’ve gotta watch out for them, but a lot of times it’s just too many people.”
If the one-year pilot program doesn’t work as intended, JCOS can revert the trails back to a multi-use designation.
“We want to pilot this and give us the ability to potentially go back if it’s something that doesn’t work. But, in the spirit of trying new things, we wanted to try it, see what happens, learn some things, and figure out what those next steps look like,” said Foster.
The Longhorn trail will change its designation June 18, 2018 and Dakota Ridge’s south portion is expected to debut as bike-only in August, according to JCOS.