In a recent announcement that marks the successful culmination of lobbying by local mountain bike advocates as well as collaboration between Grand County, Colorado State, and National Park Service officials, a two-mile stretch of the East Shore Trail will soon be open to mountain bikes.
The East Shore Trail is six miles, two miles of which are located within Rocky Mountain National Park, and with mountain biking historically prohibited in all US National Parks, this effectively rendered it a trail best suited for hiking only. In 2009 most of RMNP was designated as wilderness area, effectively eliminating all mechanically-assisted recreation. However, local stakeholders had already proposed allowing biking on this two-mile section. As a result of that existing proposal, this section of the park was left out of the wilderness designation in order to allow further impact studies to take place.
While not necessarily a destination trail in and of itself, the section in question connects the towns of Grand Lake and Granby, allowing riders starting from the East Shore trailhead to connect with the Granby to Fraser trail and ultimately the hundreds of miles of trails within the Fraser valley. This move also contributes to the Headwaters Trail Aliance plan to eventually connect all Grand County communities with bike trails.
It should be noted that while the initial Parks Service assessment has been approved for mountain biking, a 1/4 mile section of the trail needs to be relocated in order to mitigate some environmental impact, and unfortunately that section is considered a “new” trail and must go through its own approval process. This process and the actual trail relocation are expected to take “many months” according to Larry Gamble of the National Park Service, however the NPS project status page indicates that the rule making process for the new section is already under way.
In the words of Keith Sanders, president of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance and three time U.S. National Mountain Bike Champion, “I think it’s a real step forward to try to accommodate bikes and to recognize that bikes are one of the key forms of recreation not just here but nationwide.”
While there is still some work left to do, the major hurdles are cleared and this development sets an excellent precedent, not just for RMNP but for all national park lands in the US!