Battling over bicycling

City Council vote on mountain biking raises pre-election attacks

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Elizabeth Miller
photo by Paivi Rytivaara

Mountain biking is hot, but is it hot enough to become the
single issue that costs a Boulder city councilwoman her seat?

After City Council voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night for a trail
management plan for Anemone Hill, a 226-acre open space property that does not
include a proposed loop route for mountain bikers, an email campaign started that
calls for bikers to not vote for City Council member Lisa Morzel. Morzel is the
only one of the five “nay” votes currently running for re-election.

“[Tuesday] night was, I think, the best and last chance the
mountain biking community had for getting access to a trail that we could ride
to ride, sort of the carbon-free recreation experience, the place for kids to
get to without having to get into a car, the sort of lunch loop, the hour-long
after-work ride, the missing piece of the puzzle for recreational mountain bike
riders,” says Jason Vogel, president of the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance. The
loop trail on Anemone Hill would have allowed bikers what hikers, trail
runners, climbers and kayakers in Boulder County can enjoy: A place close to
downtown to sneak in an hour or so of doing whatever sport it is that keeps
them sane.

“Cyclists are the only group that I think don’t have this
opportunity,” Vogel says, “which is ironic in a town where we’re supposedly
trying to support the idea of cycling as a lifestyle choice.”

The problem with the plan for Anemone Hill that included
mountain bikers, Morzel says, was that it put too many trails in too small an
area.

It would be so
concentrated it would basically tear up the little bit of land that it was
being proposed. You see one trail from another. … There are seven trails that
are stacked right on top of each other,” Morzel says. The plan would put 6.5
miles of trail in a patch of land 8/10 of a mile long and 6/10 of a mile
across. “And that would have all been in very steep terrain and I could not be
convinced that just any average rider could access that.”

Isaac Stokes, who started the email campaign calling for
Boulder residents to not vote for Morzel, says this isn’t about creating a rush
for the “frat boy 20-something downhiller.”

“I can’t believe in 11,200 acres there’s not a square inch
of terrain that’s suitable for mountain bikes,” Stokes says. “I think that we
just keep rolling over as a user group and we need to go ahead, and I think
city council ignores mountain bikers because there are no repercussions at the
elections to them, and it just happened now right before an election, and I think
it’s a great time to make a statement to Lisa, in particular.”

Stokes has followed the West Trail Study Area for years.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. We’re finally going to have
some access to the crown jewels of Boulder,’” he says. “I mean the idea that
there’s no mountain biking, period, from Eldo to Sanitas and however far west
that extends, it’s absurd. There’s got to be some space.

I have a 5-year-old and I talk to him every day about
sharing, and the people who are protecting the status quo don’t want to share.”

Mountain biking advocates came away from the council session
with the feeling that part of the reason mountain biking was disallowed was
that it has a significant environmental impact, an argument they say doesn’t
have enough evidence to support it.

“As soon as you draw that line on the map that’s going to
draw people to the area, you’ve done the vast majority of the impact you’re
going to have,” Vogel says. City council members agree that the least invasive
measure would be to put in no trails at all.

“The science is clear that bicycling has no greater
environmental impact than other forms of trail use, and so to ban bicycling but
allow other use is misguided and doesn’t follow the best science,” says Pete
Webber, author of Trail Solutions and Managing Mountain Biking and a former
employee of the International Mountain Biking Association with experience
working with land managers and trail recreation experts from around the world.

City Council recommended a plan that includes two
pedestrian/equestrian loops and a 2.9-mile mountain bike connector trail for the
Open Space Board of Trustees to consider. That bike connector trail could form
a loop with Boulder Canyon and provide access to the mountain biking trails at Betasso
Preserve.

“Mountain
bikers would love this connector, but mountain bikers also wanted access to
this loop because it would provide a high-quality mountain bike experience
right on the edge of town, and a loop is vastly better than an out-and-back,”
Webber says. “If you have only one trail open to bikes on the whole western
backdrop of Boulder, it’s going to become very popular, and because it is going
to be an out-and-back trail, then it will seem more crowded because as you go
on it you’ll meet a lot of people both coming [and going].”

Whether it’s an out-and-back or a loop with Boulder Canyon
has yet to be decided, Morzel says.

“It’s anything but certain that it can actually happen,”
Vogel says. And even if it did, he says, “It’s just not what most people in
this town are looking for. It’s not the big missing thing people are looking
for.”

Vogel says he’ll be reaching out to the 3,500 BMA newsletter
subscribers and 2,500 Facebook friends to let them know to vote for the council
candidates that support mountain bikers, namely, Deputy Mayor Ken Wilson and Councilman
George Karakehian. Members of the city council during the 2009 elections were
voted in with just 2,611 votes. County clerk numbers show that 17.5 percent of
ballots sent out had been returned as of Oct. 26. In the 2009 city council
elections, 34 percent of ballots were returned by election day, leaving roughly
30,000 ballots — about the total number of mountain bikers in the county, based
on Vogel’s estimates — likely to be received, but yet to be mailed.

“I think that it’s a sad sign that we have come to such a
contentious place in the relationship between mountain bikers and our city
leadership that people are starting to become single-issue voters,” Vogel says.
“I’m personally disappointed in Lisa. She has historically been a supporter of
cycling. The BMA has supported her for council in the past, and she has voted
against mountain biking interests every single time they come before her.”

Morzel’s response to the email campaign has been to point
out that her vote was not, as some have said, for a ban on mountain biking
access at Anemone, and that she has a record that includes acquiring 2,500
acres of open space and working to get bike lanes, bike paths, greenways, underpasses,
safe pedestrian bike intersections and crosswalks.

“I’ve voted a ton for different mountain bike options,” she
says. “So because I did not vote for Anemone does not mean I am anti-mountain
biker. … There are a lot of issues to balance in the city and I think to be
single-issue on voting for city council is short-sighted. And I would hope that
people, when they go to the ballot, regardless of who they vote for, really look
for somebody who can achieve their goals, and I think I have achieved a lot for
bicyclists’ and mountain bikers’ goals.”