GRAND LAKE– After much anticipation, Rocky Mountain National Park officials released an environmental assessment evaluating bicycle use on the East Shore Trail.
The trail is an important link on the master trails plan for Grand County, first published in 1995, that aims to link all of the county’s towns by pedestrian and bike paths. A two-mile section of the East Shore Trail has been the most complicated and controversial leg of the trail system.
The National Park Service has proposed two alternatives for the trail. “Alternative A” would keep the trail use the same, allowing only pedestrians and no bikes. “Alternative B” proposes small modifications to the two-mile trail portion to accommodate bicycle use. Proposed improvements include a short reroute of the trail and strategies to avoid user conflicts.
Public comment on the environment assessment is open for 45 days, ending on March 3, 2014. Park staff will also hold two public meetings to present the project and answer questions. The first, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m., will be held at the Grand Lake Fire Station. The second, on Monday, Feb. 24, will be held in Boulder. Comments can be submitted at the meetings, online, by fax, in person or by mail.
All comments on the environmental assessment must be received by Park staff at the close of business on March 3.
The environmental assessment marks the beginning of the last chapter in getting bicycle use approved on the trail. Park officials expected its completion by the fall of 2013, but flooding and a forced federal employee furlough during the government shutdown caused delays.
Strong opposition could keep the trail pedestrian-only and hinder efforts to connect Grand Lake to Granby.
Bicycle use is an important element for alternative transportation in the area, according to Maura McKnight of Headwaters Trails Alliance, a local nonprofit that developed the trails master plan.
“We’d like a bike trail to connect all the communities,” she said. “People can’t walk and hike between towns, they’re too far apart.”
The East Shore Trail runs north-south along Shadow Mountain Reservoir. It also borders designated wilderness in the Park, where motorized vehicles and bicycles aren’t allowed.
After much litigation and negotiations that were part of the wilderness designation, an easement including the trail was kept out of the wilderness boundary with the specific intent of including the East Shore Trail in the bike-path system.
The Headwaters Trail Alliance and other stakeholders heavily pushed bicycle use on the East Shore Trail because the alternative for their master plan, building a bike path along Highway 34, would’ve required numerous easements through private land that McKnight said aren’t feasible.
As part of the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA, Park officials were required to complete an environmental assessment of the trail segment before bicycle use could be allowed. Park officials used public scoping to get an idea of public concerns about bicycle use and find ways to address them through the environmental assessment.
According to Larry Gamble, chief of planning and compliance at the Park, public input was about evenly split among those in favor of seeing bicycle use and those opposed.
An official public comment period will begin once the environmental assessment is released. So far, McKnight with the Headwaters Trails Alliance and officials with the Town of Grand Lake said they haven’t heard any negative comments about the trail.
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.