A Letter From the President August 2011

The rocky trail of bike access in Boulder County:

A jaded optimist's retrospective on 2011

When I moved to Boulder for graduate school in 2001, there were only a handful of trails accessible by mountain bike: Walker Ranch, Hall Ranch, Betasso Preserve, the Sourdough, and a few scattered others. I arrived in Boulder ready to bike my brains out, and I was disappointed to discover that I couldn't ride in any of the public lands surrounding Boulder that make this community so desirable to live in. So what has changed in the ensuing 10 years? Everything and nothing. 2011 has been a wild ride for mountain biking in Boulder County so far. Kind of like the sweetest flow trail ever designed with a 40 foot gap jump over a pit of vipers thrown in for good measure. I can honestly say that we've never experienced success as rewarding or failure as disappointing as we've experienced in Boulder County in 2011. I can also honestly say that the mountain biking community is on the righteous path toward inevitable victory in our modest and reasonable requests for fair and sustainable access to the public lands that we pay for.

Let's start with the successes of 2011:

1) Completion of the Dirty Bismarck loop in South Boulder. Five years ago you could ride the Marshall Mesa trail, the Greenbelt Plateau road, and the Community Ditch road for an hour of the most uninspiring outdoor experience available in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Today you can link all of these with Cowdrey Draw, Mayhoffer-Singletree, Singletree, Meadow Lark, Coalton, High Plains, Coal Seam, Marshall Valley, Flatirons Vista, Prairie Vista, Doudy Draw, and Springbrook Loop for a giant 20-30 mile four season loop trail. Now that's progress! Dirty Bismark map
2) Opening of Valmont Bike Park. This park is the coolest thing to happen to Boulder mountain bikers ever. It's a social club for recreational mountain bikers, cyclocross racers, dirt jumpers, big air hucksters, newbies, and everyone in between. It's a controlled environment for kids to play in the outdoors instead of on video game consoles after school. It's a place where new cyclists can learn how to ride with the comfort of civilization nearby before moving up to bigger adventures. Valmont is a place that will build community. It will create the next generation of mountain bikers, and it will ensure that Boulder inexorably and inevitably turns into the haven for mountain bikers it already is for climbers, hikers, anglers, and other lovers of the outdoors. This facility is a game changer! A big shout out to the staff of the City of Boulder's Parks and Recreation Department for sharing this vision with us and making it a reality! rider at Valmont
3) Doubling the trail miles at Betasso Preserve. We also need to send out props to the hard working staff at Boulder County Parks and Open Space (BCPOS). The recent opening of the Benjamin Trail (and impending opening of the Fourmile connector) at Betasso Preserve is a boon for from-town mountain biking. Betasso's Canyon Loop was always a great trail, but it was only a 2.9 mile loop. With the new Benjamin Loop we can now ride from town, up the Boulder Creek path, up the Canyon Link Trail, hit the Canyon Loop and the Benjamin Trail for an honest to god singletrack experience in a beautiful forest, with gorgeous vistas, and with enough distance to get a good workout in without having to use a car. And let's take a moment to admire the quality of the trail. The excellent trail crew at BCPOS has worked in partnership with BMA's volunteer trail crew to design sustainable trails with flow and a serious fun factor. Let the trail flow on! building the Benjamin Trail

But 2011 has also been witness to an epic, soul-crushing defeat for mountain biking: the West TSA.

Some access possibilities were dangled in front of us that may make me eat these words with the benefit of hindsight five years from now. But as those of you that showed up to the public meetings know, we've never seen such negativity, and dare I say prejudice against bikes as we did in the West TSA. Our ask was modest - give us one trail to access the Marshall Mesa system from Boulder without having to use a car or jockey with traffic - 4 to 7 miles of trail out of a system of over 100 miles on the ground. And the answer was a stunning rejection. Not just a "no," but a "Heck no! You adrenaline fueled anti-nature thugs don't belong here!" It was a sad scene to watch unfold as part of the BMA advocacy team that devoted over four years to working on this issue heart and soul.

I take comfort in the knowledge that we may have lost the access battle of the West TSA, but we have positioned ourselves to inevitably win the war of acceptance of mountain bikers as valid and appropriate users of our public lands. When our detractors used smear tactics, we responded with rational arguments. When Boulder's land managers and political leaders claimed there were "irreconcilable visitor conflicts" we ramped up our bike patrol, distributed bike bells, and developed educational materials to help all trail users understand how to better share the trail. We came to the table with solutions in the best interest of the entire Boulder community even in the face of outright rejection of mountain bikers as a class of Boulder citizens.

Every single environmental organization in Boulder came out against even a single inch of bike access in the West TSA. If the Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group, PLAN Boulder County, Boulder County Audubon Society, the Colorado Mountain Club, and others expect to remain relevant beyond the lifespan of their aging leaders, they desperately need to find people passionate about the outdoors and our public lands to carry the open space torch into the future. Instead of engaging the most constructive community actually putting boots on the ground in support of open space, these organizations and their leaders folded up the welcome mat and slammed the door in our face.

As these leaders move on to the Eleysian Fields, who do they think will step into their shoes? We will. The very people they failed to engage will become the conservation leaders of the future, and they will have failed to pass on what they believe to be important about open space. What a colossal waste of potential. On open space issues, nobody has shown the energy, the community, the stewardship, the foresight, or the staying power of the mountain biking community. It is a tragic loss that the so-called leaders of Boulder's open space movement failed to harness that energy and use it as a constructive force for good. We could have accomplished so much together. And now instead, we will have to wait until the inevitable tax of time lessens the ranks of our detractors and thrusts people like us into positions of leadership on public lands issues.

One of the founders of modern environmentalism, Aldo Leopold, developed his land ethic by using the land - by hunting, fishing, canoeing, and adventuring in the woods. I believe mountain bikers have found a modern path to developing that same land ethic - one that is more sustainable for the higher levels of use that population growth and urbanization require. This land ethic will start with small children learning to ride their bikes at Valmont Bike Park. Then they will go on family vacations riding the White Rim. Later they will take adventures of their own in the woods. They will be the next generation of public land stewards. Lucky for them, our generation will have taken over by then, and we will not slam the door in their faces. We will engage them and create a path through the wilderness together to keep the land ethic alive.

All in all, Boulder County is headed in the right direction.
The Boulder MountainBike Alliance continues to act as a responsible voice for recreational access and the long term sustainability of our public lands. Many of our elected and appointed leaders have begun to recognize our contributions and our potential. We can only do this because of your incredible contributions to our collective cause. Whether you give money, volunteer time, or just sing our praises, we could not have achieved so much without your support. If you are not a member yet, but you share our vision, become a member now. Let's keep on with this wild ride together and see just how much awesome we can create in Boulder County!

Jason Vogel
BMA President
August 2011