New Mountain Bike Trails for Washington County?

Bicycling in UtahBy Charles Pekow

Washington County wilderness may – repeat may – get a better and more organized system of mountain bike trails. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued four alternatives for future management of the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation areas (NCAs) in July. The alternative it selects (or combination thereof or as amended) will depend largely on the reaction it gets from the public during a three-month comment period..

The 63,400-acre Beaver Dam Wash and 44,859-acre Red Cliffs became NCAs by federal law in 2009. The latter gets more use: more than 150,000 hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians used it in 2012, the last year with available data. But they sometimes get in each other’s way, as horseback riders can mess up the trails, forcing mountain bikers off trails if they ride there at all.

When a federal land agency presents a series of options, it includes a no change option (Alternative A), a preferred one (Alternative B) plus two others. BLM’s preferred alternative is very conservative. But all but A include an effort to make the NCAs, especially Red Cliffs, more mountain-bike friendly. Option B focuses mainly on conservation, particularly protecting the Mojave Desert tortoise. Current BLM’ resource management plan closes Red Mountain and Cottonwood Wilderness Study areas to bikers and restricts them to designated trails in the rest of Red Cliffs for the benefit of these shelled creatures, who are protected by federal law.

But in addition to protecting the tortoise, BLM noted the need to improve the mountain bike scene. It notes in the draft plan (http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/st__george/planning2/nca_resource_management.html) that the “existing trails were not professionally designed for sustainability or for specific recreation users. The two-track roads that were included in the trail network did not typically provide high quality visitor experiences, as a majority served as access roads for power transmission lines or other utilities. Existing trails that crossed sandy or soft soils have, over time, degraded to the point that they are only suitable for one user group. When horses, mountain bikes and hikers share the same trail in this type of soil, the trail tread will eventually become usable only bu equestrians. As the trail tread is churned up by horses, hikers and mountain bikers can no longer easily negotiate that trail….”

All the plans except A call for a “two-pronged approach” of on the one hand further restricting people to trails and not letting them roam free in wilderness areas, but on the other hand expanding and improving the trail network. BLM would consider special trails for mountain bikers if they demand it, says NCA Manager Donna Ferris-Rowley. Options B and C emphasize conservation over recreation but might allow some trail expansion.

Beaver Dam Wash, the more remote of the two areas, gets less recreational use but “we are definitely looking at increasing recreational use,” Ferris-Rowley says.

The area “is really remote and so I don’t see it in the near future being a big need to be a huge mountain biking destination because we have so many great trails so close to town,” says Cimarron Chacon, founding president of the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association and president of GRO Promotions, a mountain bike event promoter. As Cycling Utah went to press, Chacon said she hadn’t had a chance to see BLM’s plan and couldn’t comment on specifics but saw the possibility of creating “a couple hundred miles of trails”in the plan. Current association President Lukas Brinkerhoff was out of town and not reachable.

The public is welcome to comment until Oct. 15. BLM even provided a handy form online making it easy to submit comments: http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/ut/st__george_fo/planning/rmp_other_docs.Par.72399.File.dat/RMP%20Comment%20Form_St%20George%20FO.pdf. But the agency advises people not just to express opinions but to back them up. Explain why you take your position. “We base a lot on public input; substantive comments, as we say,” Ferris-Rowley notes. “We can mix and match” among the alternatives.

“Everybody needs to comment. We need to get mountain bikers out there really reading and commenting,” Chacon adds. “The reason mountain biking has gotten so much attention is because of the response in the initial comment period” five years ago.

Everyone is also invited to attend three open houses where BLM staff will present maps and other documents and can answer questions. They take place:

September 1, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Dixie Center

1835 Convention Center

St. George, Utah 84790

September 2, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Hurricane City Office

147 North 870 West

Hurricane, Utah 84737

September, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Red Lion Hotel

161 West 600 South

Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

 

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