Agency Releases Ridgway Travel Management Plan EA
RIDGWAY – With a name only a mountain biker could love, RAT (Ridgway Area Trails) is getting serious about its future. And the future of new trails, new cooperative relationships, and new economic benefits it hopes to bring to the region.
A crucial element fell into place last week. The Bureau of Land Management finally issued a long-anticipated Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment. It proffers four options for mountain bike trails on 1,200 acres of public land north of Ridgway. Now, after five years of sporadic trail building and 10 years of dreaming, RAT’s vision of a mountain-biking destination is closing in on reality.
RAT is so much easier to say than COPMOBA. The latter is the acronym for the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, Inc. RAT joined the Grand Junction-based group this year as the Sneffels Chapter of COPMOBA. “They have clout. And trail-building expertise,” said RAT board member Bill Lindler. “We were the first new COPMOBA chapter in 12 years. Then we decided ‘Sneffels Chapter of COPMOBA’ was too much of a mouthful. We’re still members, but we’re just RAT.”
Lindler is a soft-spoken software salesman, originally from Georgia, who moved to Ridgway from Durango two years ago. He and fellow RAT board members Sarah Ballantyne, a former World Champion mountain biker, and Brian Scranton put together a presentation for RAT’s members timed to coincide with the Dec. 10 release of the EA. The group’s goals are ambitious, but attainable, Lindler said. They are: to build 50 miles of sustainable single-track trail in the next three years, and add $1 million in economic impact to the community within the next 18 months.
They also want to to look at other public partnerships – collaborating with the Town of Ridgway, for example, to add the pump track south of the soccer fields as a RAT activity. Additional partnerships RAT is eyeing include working with Ouray County to develop new trails at Top of the Pines on Miller Mesa, and with Ridgway State Park, where trails could connect Park land to the planned BLM trails east of the lake.
The prospects add up, Lindler said, to putting Ridgway “at the center of the mountain biking universe, between Moab, Crested Butte, Phil’s World [in Cortez] and Fruita.”
The feds’ plan has been a long time coming, Lindler said, and it’s most welcome given recent delays.
The first delay occurred when the BLM discovered trails that crossed the county’s gravel pit north of CR10. The pit is on BLM land. State Mining Safety and Health Administration rules forbid public access to the pit.
A second delay happened when unauthorized “rogue” trails were discovered in the project area. “We organized a work party in July, with the BLM, to decommission the rogue trails,” Lindler said. “We responded. We talked to the rogue guy. We said, ‘Hey, we can see the finish line’” in the prescribed process with the federal agency.
RAT had hoped that the EA would be finished in time for the group to meet a Dec. 1 application deadline for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to fund trail building. But that deadline was also missed.
Still, the process is moving forward. By Jan. 3, RAT expects to have finalized its response to the Travel Plan EA. Public comment wraps up Feb. 1. “We could be building trails some time next year,” Lindler said. “Their [the BLM’s] phased plan is for trail building over five years. We’d like to speed it up to a three-year plan.”
Anyone wishing to comment on the proposal must submit written comments to the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office, Attn: Julie Jackson, 2465 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose CO 81401; or by email at email@example.com; or by fax at 970/240-5368.
Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett has contributed statistical research, and economic-development enthusiasm, to RAT’s vision. Her numbers confirm the economic impact to similar-sized communities when they develop destination mountain biking. There are 50 million mountain bikers in the U.S., more mountain bikers than golfers. And 80 percent of them take big trips, according to Lindler, an average of 4.6 days per trip. They stay in campgrounds and motels, eat in restaurants, shop at food markets, buy gas, etc., etc.
The magic number, Lindler said, is “25 miles of trails to become a destination.” He listed a few of the communities that have been reborn through mountain biking: Fruita, Colo., East Burke, Vt., Payson Lake, Penn., Grants, N.M. He thought East Burke was especially apropos. It’s relatively remote; the population is about 1,500. Their Kingdom Trails group built 100 miles of trail, mostly on private land, and now mountain biking pumps $5 million into the local economy annually.
“We don’t necessarily want to be another Moab, or Fruita,” Lindler said. “But with our hot springs, our lake and campground, we could be an additional draw, an additional reason for people to come here.
“And,” he said, “this doesn’t require millions of dollars [in upfront investment], like the Streetscape Project, for example,” another effort to invest in Ridgway’s economic future.
RAT’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10 at Ridgway Town Hall. In addition to the EA, they will discuss the 2013 edition of RAT Fest, the group’s primary fundraising and outreach event, coming up June 7-8.