Hay Park Area & Mountain Bike Trail Advocacy

RFMBA has focused on the Hay Park area over the past 12 years due to the tremendous beauty of the area, the quality of the riding for mountain bikers, and the challenges that come along with managing this particular area of public land.

The Dinkle Lake / Thomas Lakes Trailhead provides access to not only the Hay Park Trail, but also to the Maroon Bells / Snowmass Wilderness area. This popular trailhead acts as a gateway for bike riders, hikers, runners, and equestrians. In additio,n ranchers graze cattle under special use permits in the area, and hunters visit this zone each fall. Trail users visiting Hay Park can expect to find healthy stands of mature dark timber, huge groves of aspen trees, a lush meadow with views of Capitol Peak (one of Colorado’s most jagged and formidable 14er’s) and of course hikers and backcountry skiers can tackle the high alpine environment of the Roaring Fork Valley’s most omni-present high point, Mount Sopris.

We’ve been aware of the many routes in this area of the White River National Forest since our organization’s earliest days. RFMBA submitted comments during the WRNF’s Travel Management Plan process (in 2009, and in 2011) advocating that many of the existing routes should remain open to bikes.

Unfortunately, our argument that these routes were historic, had been ridden by area mountain bikers for many years, provided important high value recreation opportunities, and that most importantly mechanized bicycle use was compatible with the area … did not succeed. Many of the routes were left out of the official route system in the final TMP decision documents. Following is some key language from our 2011 letter to the WRNF:

“RFMBA respects the WRNF’s multitude of decisions in coming to this Record of Decision, and we propose in this document to work with the WRNF to re-commission specific trails that are being decommissioned. We provide a catalog of trails that are being decommissioned that are in direct conflict with the mountain biking community’s current use patterns. In many cases these are trails that riders will continue to use, potentially unaware of the recent administrative closure. We respect that many trails have been appropriately decommissioned, but we must continue to disagree on certain details of this Travel Management Plan.”

“It is our hope that for existing routes that are being decommissioned, a NEPA process will not be required to reopen the trails for bicycle use. As mentioned above, many of these are well ridden trails. In some cases partial re-routes or trail maintenance may be required to achieve a fully sustainable route.”

2008 mapping analysis of the WRNF Draft TMP created by RFMBA, showing routes proposed to be decommissioned, but advocated to be open to bikes by RFMBA.
The WRNF’s 2011 Travel Management Plan decommissioned many routes in the Hay Park area. Red = decommission, Dashed Orange = open to bikes, Dashed Green = open to foot & horse only. Mt. Sopris is located within the Maroon Bells / Snowmass Wilderness (which does not allow for bike use).

Another early effort in the Hay Park Area for RFMBA was to advocate for boundary adjustments and creative solutions that would retain biking in the area in the face of the Hidden Gems proposal. The Hidden Gems, at an early stage of the campaign in 2009, proposed the entirety of this corner of the WRNF for inclusion as federally designated Wilderness, leaving only the Hay Park Trail as a “mechanized corridor” that would remain open to biking. While this campaign dissipated many years ago locally, it did evolve over time into a public lands bill for Summit and parts of Eagle Counties to become the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which also includes protections for the Thompson Divide. RFMBA is in support of the CORE Act due to the many positive changes made over the years to the legislative proposal, changes that do provide clear benefits to the mountain bike community.

In late 2010 RFMBA proposed “H.G. 3.0”, a version of the proposal that would have been fully supported by mountain bikers while providing additional significant acreage of land protection through non-Wilderness ‘companion designations’.

Understanding that the historic routes closed through the TMP process were important and valuable to both local and visiting riders, RFMBA submitted a detailed proposal in 2013 to the White River National Forest to undertake a trail planning process for the Hay Park Area. The WRNF’s official response letter acknowledged “the proposal submitted offers a viable long term vision for an enhanced mountain bike system in the Hay Park area“, but that limited resources did not allow for immediate action on the proposal. While the proposal is now out of date, it’s still impressive in terms of the existing conditions detailed for the area, and the range of creative ideas proposed that would lead to more access for mountain bikers on more area trails.

In 2013 RFMBA proposed a trail planning process to address historic and future trails in the Hay Park area. If and when such an effort moves forward in the future, the WRNF anticipates some form of a cooperative process that takes into account “multiple different recreation user groups and forest uses outside of recreation”.

As RFMBA has grown in size and capability, we’ve been able to contribute more directly to stewardship of the area’s trails open to mountain bikers. In recent years our Trail Agents, acting as independent trained volunteers, have performed basic maintenance on the Hay Park Trail, clearing fallen trees and cutting back corridor where needed. For three summers in a row now, our Seasonal Trail Crew have used chainsaws and brush cutters to revitalize and maintain the wild Buzzard Basin Trail. In 2019 we partnered with the WRNF, Wilderness Workshop, and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers to reroute a section of the Buzzard Basin Trail, ensuring this trail, which is open to bikes, remained just outside of the adjacent federally designated Wilderness. In 2020 we are partnering with WRNF, WW, and The Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council to restore the entrance to a non-system trail that leads into the Wilderness, while also further improving the quality of experience available on the Buzzard Basin Trail.

These recent advocacy efforts are always keeping in mind the bigger picture in the Hay Park Area. RFMBA continues to review the current status of trails in the area with WRNF staff and other partner organizations. We’ve been clear for many years that we believe that certain trails should be officially open to bikes in the future. We’ll keep working in that direction. In the meantime, thank you for supporting all of the work RFMBA is undertaking to find success and greater access for bikes in this beautiful area.

Trailforks.com shows the trails open to bikes as of 2020. Hay Park Trail shown with a blue line, Buzzard Basin Trail is shown with a black line. WRNF land is shown mostly with a light green overlay, while Mount Sopris is located within Wilderness which is indicated by the dark green overlay. Adjacent to the WRNF lands are some limited BLM lands (tan overlay), and private lands (white overlay).