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Forest Service: MTBs OK on Parts of Continental Divide Trail

While a new directive establishes hiking and horseback riding as the primary uses of the trail, other shared, non-motorized and human-powered uses — including mountain biking — are allowed.

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After delaying a decision for more than a year the U.S. Forest Service unveiled its approach to managing the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail this fall.

The trail extends 3,100 miles through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

The plan states that mountain biking is an acceptable use of the trail and emphasizes that Forest Service offices should formulate strategies appropriate for their districts. While the new directive establishes hiking and horseback riding as the primary uses of the trail, Steve Sherwood, director of the Rocky Mountain Region’s Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness programs, told the International Mountain Biking Association that now other shared, non-motorized and human-powered uses — including mountain biking — are allowed.

“As far as I am concerned, this is a very positive outcome that promotes shared use of the trail,” Sherwood said. “We had a lot of push back on the issue of shared use beyond hiking and horseback riding and we still have strong advocates each way both within the agency and externally, but people need to understand that the CDNST is a 3,100-mile trail that can and needs to accommodate multiple uses.”

Dave Wiens, president of Gunnison Trails, told IMBA that he is “optimistic” about keeping the Monarch Crest section of trail in Colorado open to bikes.

“It’s such an important trail for mountain bikers, and with the good relationship our club has established with the Gunnison Ranger District I believe we will be able to work together on a successful shared-used strategy,” Wiens said.

The Forest Service directive allows federal land managers on the ground to make decisions on which uses will be allowed based on an analysis of the local conditions. These decisions will be made under the National Environmental Policy Act and will allow for full public involvement, Sherwood said.

IMBA noted that the Forest Service decision was reached after receiving more than 8,000 comments generated by an IMBA action alert. For continued access and input on shared-use strategies, IMBA Government Affairs Director Jenn Dice said it is important for mountain bike clubs to work closely with their local federal land managers.

“The decision provides a basis for Forest Service offices that are willing to maintain or even expand access for mountain bikers,” Dice said. “However, it also states that hiking and equestrian uses are the original intention for creating the trail, so mountain bikers are going to have to continue making a case for shared-use arrangements that allow citizens to get the maximum recreation value out of this wonderful national resource.”

Homepage Photo: Riders take in the view on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in Colorado between Monarch Pass and Marshall Pass. Photo by Brad Kaminski