Feb 162006
Authors: Sarah Rawley

The Fort Collins cycling community gathered Monday to show their displeasure for a recent proposal of closures to trails in Horsetooth Mountain Park.

Jennifer Brooks, owner of the Cyclogist, a local cycling shop, called the meeting to organize advocacy for future changes with Larimer County Parks and Open Lands.

"The biggest problem was that mountain bikers did not have a good communication forum. We weren't a part of the preliminary draft," Brooks said. "This was a wake-up call – we can't rely on the status quo of the trails."

Larimer County Parks and Open Lands initially drafted a plan in August that would eliminate mountain bikers, 12 percent of trail users, from 12 percent of the trails. This would designate several trails in Horsetooth Mountain Park for hikers only, including Carrie Springs, Loggers, Nomad, Horsetooth Falls and Horsetooth Rock trails.

Larimer County Parks and Open Lands agreed to designate only Horsetooth Falls and Horsetooth Rock trails for hikers.

Gary Buffington, (CQ)es director of Larimer County Parks and Open Lands, will give the final approval of the management plan on Sunday.

Initially this proposal had many mountain bikers up in arms about losing trails they rode for many years.

"My personal opinion was there wasn't ever a demonstrated need because of crowding or conflict on the trails," Brooks said. "The original intent of the meeting was to see if we could be persuasive in the eleventh hour to compromise."

Kelly Ohlson, (CQ)es a leader in six open-space campaigns in Larimer County and Fort Collins, felt differently.

"I have my opinions that certain trails should be kept for just hikers," Ohlson said. "It's appropriate to change the usage of trails when conditions change."

But after negotiating, both sides understood.

"As I planned for the meeting, it was apparent they made concessions, so it was time to look toward the future," Brooks said. "You can appreciate that Horsetooth is a popular hiking trail, it is just hard to give up something you have always enjoyed access to."

As a result of recent events, the Fort Collins mountain bike community has teamed up to create a stronger voice in the community.

Andy Orr, (CQ)es who has rode trails at Horsetooth Mountain Park for the past eight years, is making his Web site, Northern Colorado Mountain Bike Organization (www.nocomb.org), a means to organize and unite mountain bikers in northern Colorado in hopes the group may further the sport of mountain biking.

"Ongoing problems require ongoing solutions. My hope is that we can get organized, get a voice and get involved on committees in the city," said Orr, owner of Circulation Services Inc. and SeeHear Media in Fort Collins. "It seems that in other regions of the country that once this starts, it doesn't stop."

Orr was among 50 Fort Collins recreationalists who attended Monday's meeting. Other attendees were active advocates for working with Larimer County Parks and Open Lands to foster good relations.

Brooks hopes to work under the umbrella of Friends of Fort Collins Bicycling Program (www.bikefortcollings.com) for advocating on future issues. She recently set up a Yahoo group, Mountain Bike Fort Collins, to create a contact list for mountain bikers in Fort Collins.

"I would like to put my volunteer hours into their organization and bring all cyclists together," Brooks said.

At the end of the meeting, even Ohlson felt it was successful and productive.

"I presented a challenging message but in response the brain power and passion in the room was very impressive," Ohlson said.

Ohlson's greatest hope is that people will become involved beyond their own special recreation interests.

"The only time most outdoor recreationalists get involved is when they perceive something is going to negatively impact their individual interest," Ohlson said. "It would benefit them and the Earth if they got more involved protecting open space, natural areas and habitat, rather than just see it as a commodity to be used."

Although the future is rocky for a few trails in Horsetooth Mountain Park, the future of new trails shows promise of new opportunities. The Blue Sky Trail is scheduled to open this spring and will connect Horsetooth Mountain Park to the Devil's Backbone Open Space in Loveland, more than 16 miles.

Future plans exist for the development of Bobcat Ridge and Soapstone Open Space.

Although Soapstone is not scheduled for public use until 2009, Brooks feels that recent issues are a wake-up call for mountain bikers to be involved in the process and be proactive as plans progress.

"The bottom line is there will be more net miles of mountain biking trails. We just can't always have all or none," Ohlson said. "Our best resources are to join forces more often. Environmentalists and recreationalists should overlap and be allies."

Sarah Rawley can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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