Those changes are part of the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed action for trail management. Public input has been taken on that proposal as well as two alternatives – one of which calls for building 50.5 miles of new trails while the other would close 5.8 miles of existing trails to all users and exclude bicycles from another 25.2 miles of current trails.
A final decision by Forest Service District Ranger Michael Diem is due in early May, said Brian Murdock of the Moab/Monticello Ranger District. The new rules would go into effect this summer or fall.
“We started in 2010 working with interest groups,” Murdock said. “We want to find something that will fit everybody’s needs.”
Regulations are needed to alleviate conflicts between fast-moving downhill mountain bikers and hikers or equestrians traveling the opposite direction on the same trails, according to Forest Service officials.
“Commenters were concerned that the heavy mountain bike use on several of the existing trails [was] basically precluding uphill travel by hikers and equestrians and that something needed to be done to reduce social conflicts,” the agency wrote in a response to public input.
Murdock said the agency has received comments from a variety of trail users and has also discussed the issues with trail groups. In addition, biologists and hydrologists have spent the past two summers looking at factors that affect various trail proposals.
In its response to public input, the Forest Service added: “Several commenters were concerned that there is too much commercial recreation use (i.e. shuttle companies and outfitter/guides) and that the designation of new down-hill oriented trails would lead to increased commercial use. Others commented that the Forest Service should be looking at increasing commercial use to support the local economy and to spread out use from other heavily used areas.”
Representatives from Coyote and Porcupine shuttle services could not be reached for comment.
The proposed action would keep 60 miles of existing trail while removing a 3.5-mile portion of Deep Creek Trail. A total of 12.8 miles of trail would become open only to foot and horse travel, and about two miles of new trail would be added for hikers and equestrians only.
Murdock said it is possible the Forest Service will include parts of all three alternatives in its final decision.
“We are analyzing the full range,” he said.
Sandy Freethey, chairwoman of the Trail Mix Committee, said whatever decision is made will be in effect for 15 or 20 years.
“This is a major non-motorized plan,” she said.
Freethey said it appears mountain bikers will lose access to many trails in the process. While not taking a stance for or against any user group, she said, “Separation is good because of conflicts.”
Freethey said she understands the Forest Service must protect resources on a relatively small mountain area, adding, “They are looking for a compromise.”
Comments received by the Forest Service indicate that mountain bikers feel they will lose access.
“I am disappointed and personally offended by the Proposed Action,” Sylvi White wrote. “Your plan clearly discriminates against mountain bikers. … mountain bikers are now the primary user group, by a huge margin. The Proposed Action represents us as if we barely exist.”
Karen Robinson urged that further signage not be added. She wrote, “Kiosks, additional trail markers, advertising of trails, are not desired by hikers. Trails should not be marketed.”
Darcey Brown expressed different concerns. “Hunting dogs above Brumley very intimidating and lots of campers in trailers stay well beyond their time limit,” she wrote.
Tim Peterson, program director of Grand Canyon Trust; Kevin Muller of Utah Environmental Congress; Liz Thomas, field attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; and Veronica Egan, executive director for Great Old Broads for Wilderness, submitted comments together.
“If the Forest Service were to include language in the decision and trail maps suggesting route designations are provisional, and should abuse occur that the Forest [Service] will close routes accordingly, the recreating public would be much more likely to respect route designations,” they wrote.