Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do what's right for all of Boulder

Guest opinion: Open Space trails - Do what's right for all of Boulder
By Dick Harris and Eve Rose
Posted: 09/19/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT

The fierce debate about allowing mountain biking through the heart of Boulder's Open Space is fundamentally about fairness. It's about fairness to the majority of Boulder residents, fairness to nature, and fairness to future generations.

Somehow that has gotten lost.

Let's start with the facts. Mountain bikers have access to 49 miles of the city's Open Space trails. They have another 89 miles of trail in the county and 135 miles of nearby U.S. Forest Service trails. This doesn't include the network of bike paths and lanes in the city or the $4.1 million Off-Road Bike Park the city is now building.

But mountain bikers want more. The question for all of us now is this: How much is enough? How much is fair? What is right for the city as a whole -- not just any individual interest group?

Some mountain bikers are currently trying to gain access to the last major part of Boulder Open Space that does not allow mountain biking, the network of trails below the Flatirons, stretching from Chautauqua to Eldorado Canyon. We believe this is simply too much.

People need at least one area where they don't have to watch out for bikes -- a peaceful place to run, hike, and walk. Some bikers argue that we can all share the trails, but the reality on the ground is much different. Any walker or runner will tell you that it's just not the same. Having to constantly watch out for bikers and make way to let them by is a fundamentally different experience.

"Just one trail is all we want" -- the current mantra of mountain bikers -- implies that their request is reasonable, simple, and safe.

But the trails in the route they want to access are not just any trails. The proposed route would include some of the most heavily used hiking trails in the area. That's because these trails are some of the most easily accessible trails for families, the elderly, casual hikers, after-work runners, dog walkers, and the disabled.

The mountain biking community has promised to be careful and we take most of them at their word. That's not the point. The difference in speed and weight, combined with the number of people on the trail, are a recipe for collisions and conflict (no matter how careful or responsible riders are). We don't have to wait to find out. We tried this in the '80s and it was a disaster. The trails had to be closed to mountain bikers because of so many conflicts. Today, the trails are much more crowded and the number of mountain bikers has increased. "Just one trail" cannot safely accommodate thousands of new users -- mountain bikers who will come from the city as well as Denver to access the new trail.

Just one trail sounds so simple, but belies so many serious problems. How will the surrounding streets cope with the increase in traffic? Parking is already a nightmare and nearby streets are already overrun. Surely, some bikers will want to drive to the start of this new route, but where will they park? What will happen to other neighborhoods along the route -- quiet now, but for how long?

What about the environment? What is our responsibility as stewards of the land? This particular area of Open Space is already a delicate balance of recreational use and conservation. It's a narrow ribbon of land -- a refuge for deer, bears, mountain lions, and many other native inhabitants. Introducing a large new user group will only strain the system further. The new route will use existing trails, but will also require new trails, further fragmenting habitat and taking away pristine areas.

We are families. We are hikers. We are runners. We are young and old. We are mountain bikers and conservationists. We also believe we represent the majority of Boulder citizens whose voice has been lost in the past year, drowned out by one very vocal group which has come to dominate the discussion of the future of our Open Space.

At the moment, mountain bikers already have access to hundreds of miles of off-road trails and more are being developed for them as we speak. Is it so unreasonable to ask that one area of our open space be preserved for the vast majority of Boulder residents?

Dick Harris and Eve Rose are members of