Boulder’s Bike Ban
The story of the country’s longest standing bike ban.
Boulder’s Bike Ban
The City of Boulder has the dubious distinction of the country’s longest standing bike ban on singletrack trails in public open space. Few now remember the early days of klunkers when locals took their new-fangled off-road bikes on the Mesa Trail. That ended when Boulder prohibited bicycling in the area around the Flatirons in 1983. City Council reconfirmed and expanded the ban in 1987. To this day, bikes are not allowed on any of the 70 miles of trails between Eldorado Springs and Wonderland Lake.
The reasons given for the closure were the scientifically refuted claim that bikes cause more resource damage than hikers1 and worries of user conflict. “Hikers and other naturalists argued that the bikes erode trails, disrupt the tranquil setting of a nature trail and pose a danger to hikers” (1983)2 and “…it is the purpose of the open space trustees to protect and preserve our natural environment.” (1987)3
In 1998 the Boulder Mountain Parks & Open Space’s (OSMP) department began a planning process that created some hope that the bike ban could be overturned or at least modified. The seven-year planning process resulted in the 2005 Visitor Master Plan which divided Open Space into regional sections (Trail Study Areas (TSA)) for evaluation. The 2005 Marshall Mesa/Southern Grasslands TSA and the 2006 Eldorado Mountain/Doudy Draw TSA went well for mountain bikers. The existing Doudy Draw trail was reopened to bikes and the plans called for the creation of the new singletrack trails Crowdy Draw, Coal Seam, High Plains, Springbrook, Flatiron Vista and Prairie Vista to be open to bikes as well.
In 2008, the first whispers of a re-evaluation of the western Open Space lands began, with the public process starting in earnest in 2010 to plan the West Trails Study Area (West TSA). The success of the first two TSAs gave BMA the hope that there would be some bike access reopened in the west by the Flatirons as well. OSMP formed a citizen advisory group called the Community Collaborative Group (CCG) to give stakeholders and neighborhoods a voice in the process. OSMP mandated consensus as the decision-making process so just one dissenting vote could end any decision. BMA’s aspirations were of a north-south singletrack connection starting at Baseline Rd. and ending at Doudy Draw. A second, shorter option would be a connection between Shanahan Ridge and Doudy Draw.
A neighborhood group calling themselves Save Open Space Boulder (SOS Boulder) came out vehemently opposed to any bike access, claiming “mountain bikes would pose safety risks to other trail users and that they would fundamentally change the open space experience,”4 any new multi-use trails would irreparably fragment habitat, as well as add parking congestion to the streets. CCG could not come to a consensus on any mountain bike access. Ultimately Boulder City Council voted on March 3, 2011 to uphold the bike ban by a narrow 5-4 majority.
At that March 3, 2011 meeting, City Council requested that OSMP staff evaluate Anemone Hill as a possible multi-use loop or connection to Boulder Canyon and Betasso Preserve. Staff studied these options during the summer and they and the Open Space Board of Trustees recommended a connection be open to bikes, but that route never was deemed viable. Boulder City Council again voted against bike access on November 8, 2011.
The only concessions given were the gravel fire road Chapman Drive and a promise to advocate for the Eldo to Walker multi-use connection – which relied on the cooperation of both the state park and Boulder County. OSMP opened Chapman Drive to bike use in 2013. The Eldo to Walker connection was unilaterally killed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife in 2021.
And where does that leave us today? The city of Boulder does not have plans to revisit the West TSA. Even now, staff is still working on action items from that decision, like the new Anemone Hill hiking trail that partially opened in fall 2021 and won’t fully open until 2022. Additionally, OSMP has yet to start building the North Sky trail or the Boulder Valley Ranch redesign outlined in the 2016 North TSA decision.
So will the Boulder Flatiron bike ban ever be overturned? Answer: not any time soon. Has BMA given up? Answer: heck no!
CITY OF BOULDER BANS MOUNTAIN BIKES FROM OPEN SPACE
City Council decides bikes do not belong in Open Space. The reasons given for the closure are the scientifically refuted claim that bikes cause more resource damage than hikers and worries of user conflict. “Hikers and other naturalists argued that the bikes erode trails, disrupt the tranquil setting of a nature trail and pose a danger to hikers.”
- Environmental Bulletins Opinion Piece from P.U.R.E. from the Daily Camera; January 16, 1983
- Council’s Vote Prohibits Bikes on Park Trails from the Daily Camera; January 19, 1983
Parks and Recreation Advisory Board asks for time to study the issue before council makes a decision. Board members ask for more data on environmental impacts.
- Environmental Bulletins Opinion Piece from P.U.R.E. from the Daily Camera; January 30, 1983
On February 19, bikes are banned from all trails until the Open Space Board of Trustees and the Parks and Recreation Advisory board reopen selected trails.
- Mountain Bike Controversy from the Daily Camera; February 14, 1983
In the summer of 1983, Boulder reopens selected trails to mountain biking, about a third of the total mileage.
LIMITED MOUNTAIN BIKE ACCESS PERMITTED
The Mesa Trail is closed to bikes from NCAR to Chautauqua but some mountain bikers ignore the rule.
- Mountain Bikers Cope with Trail Restrictions in Boulder County from the Daily Camera; August 31, 1985
Few singletrack trails are open to bikes – just the Bluebird Shelter/Enchanted Mesa Loop, the Tenderfoot Loop, and trails south of NCAR. Local bike shop owners encourage trail etiquette and Bicycling Magazine portends, “The tug of war between fat-tire bike riders and environmentalists has just begun.“
- Fun or Furor? from Boulder Freewheeler; Fall 1985
Map of Open Space roads and trails open to bikes. Area is not well-signed, leading to confusion and noncompliance.
- Mountain Bike Trail Map from OSMP; 1985
BOULDER UPHOLDS BIKE BAN
City Council bans bikes from the Bluebird Road/Enchanted Mesa Loop and the Tenderfoot Loop. “In 1986 alone, city park rangers fielded 102 complaints about mountain bicyclists – a 500 percent increase from 1985 – observed 136 cyclists in off-limits areas and issued 24 summonses and 256 warnings.” Mention of newly formed Boulder Mountain Bike Coalition. Officials argue that having any trail open to bikes leads to confusion and noncompliance.
- Park Board Bans Bikes on 2 Trails from the Daily Camera; February 24, 1987
- Get the Bikes off all the Trails from the Daily Camera; February 26, 1987
- The Trails of Controversy from the Daily Camera; March 7, 1987
- Education, Not Trail Closing, is Answer to Mountain Bikes; Douglas Emerson, owner of University Bikes; March 11, 1987
The Bike Ban officially starts – Boulder bans bikes on Open Space from Eldorado Springs to Wonderland Lake. Bikes are permitted on the Rudd trails (Community Ditch) and the Wonderland Lake trail.
BOULDER OFFROAD ALLIANCE FORMS
In 1991 a dedicated group of riders get together to form the Boulder Offroad Alliance (BOA) to start working to roll back the ban and expand riding opportunities. Galvanized by the death of Sugarloaf resident Sherrill Amendt, BOA’s mission is made all too real. Sherrill is killed on September 3, 1991 by a motorist while riding on Boulder Canyon Drive during a period when the Canyon Trail is closed and gated due to private property issues.
BOA changes its name to the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance in 2006 to avoid confusion with motorized sports.
- BOA completes its first ever trail work day at Walker Ranch, July 21, 1991
- BOA is officially incorporated, August 27, 1991
- Commissioners Decide to Keep Gate Up, from the Daily Camera; Sepetmber 18, 1991
- Political Pedalers: Boulder Mountainbike Alliance used its Muscle in 2006 from the Daily Camera; January 26, 2007
- Still on the Trail from the Boulder Weekly; June 9, 2016
BOULDER APPROVES THE VISITOR MASTER PLAN (VMP) FOR OPEN SPACE
BMA works closely with BATCO on comments and suggestions for the VMP.
- Open Space and Mountain Parks Visitor Plan BATCO Comments
- BMA Community Group Forum Draft Visitor Master Plan Input
The VMP’s purpose is to provide a framework for decisions that will ensure a continued high quality visitor experience, while at the same time ensuring that the lands are protected and preserved for future generations. The plan calls for evaluating open space in a piecemeal fashion with the land from Eldorado Springs to Wonderland Lake as one chunk.
- City Council Approves Open Space and Mountain Park’s Visitor Plan
- Visitor Master Plan Approve April 2005 by Boulder City Council
The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) compiles research on the environmental impacts and bikes.
- Natural Resource Impacts of Mountain Biking by Gary Sprung; 2005
MARSHALL MESA/SOUTHERN GRASSLAND TSA
BMA participates in the first TSA and has concerns about an additional resource planning process called the Grasslands Ecosystem Management Plan (GEMP) that makes trail and recreation suggestions.
- BMA’s updates on TSA and GEMP
- BMA’s Grasslands Ecosystem Management Plan Study Session Comments
- BMA’s Comments on Grassland Management Plan
Plans call for new singletrack trails Crowdy Draw, Coal Seam, High Plains and coordination with Boulder County to build Mayhoffer-Singletree and Meadowlark to complete the Dirty Bismark loop.
2006 – 2007
ELDORADO MOUNTAIN/DOUDY DRAW TSA APPROVED
BMA again participates in the public process.
- Eldorado Mountain/Doudy Draw Trail Recommendations Position Statement; March 5, 2006
- Eldorado Mountain/Doudy Draw Expanded Comments; March 5, 2006
- Time to Show Up: Eldorado Mt – Doudy Draw TSA Meetings Next Week; May 2006
- BMA’s Comments on Draft Plan; August 2, 2006
The TSA Plan is approved.
BMA celebrates a great year!
- BMA’s 2006 in Review; January 2, 2007
The TSA Plan specifies a Flatiron Vista trail and alignment details are hashed out 2007. BMA is disappointed that the designated trails will follow social trails instead of new more sustainable, interesting and fun alignments.
- Pete Weber (IMBA Trail Solutions)’s Flatiron Vista Report; June 2007
- BMA Comments on Proposed Flatiron Vista Trail Alignment; November 21, 2007
- OSMP’s Response to BMA’s Comments on Flatirons Vista Trail Alignment; December 14, 2007
BMA STARTS GETTING EXCITED FOR REOPENED TRAIL POSSIBILITIES NEAR THE FLATIRONS
On October 31, 2008 the City of Boulder holds the first meeting to discuss the process for managing trails in the West TSA.
- BMA Trail Priorities for OSMP land (circa 2006)
- BMA position on City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s Western Trail Study Area; August 15, 2008
- Mountain Parks West Trail Study Area from BMA’s website, 2008
- Mountain Bikes asking Boulder to Open Trails from the Daily Camera; September 26, 2008
- BMA’s Position Statement: Mountain Biking and the West TSA; October 8, 2008
OSMP BEGINS THE WEST TSA AND SELECTS VOLUNTEERS FOR THE COMMUNITY COLLABORATIVE GROUP
OSMP contracts with Peak Facilitation Group to lead a citizen advisory group called the Community Collaborative Group (CCG) in September 2009. The 15 volunteers are selected through a caucus process and approved by OSBT. OSMP mandates consensus as the decision-making process. Mountain bikers are accused of trying to take over the process when rider Kevin Knight, then a professional conservation ecologist with the Environmental Defense Fund, tries to gain a seat with the conservation group. Mark McIntyre is chosen to represent the mountain biking group.
- Community Collaborative Group (CCG) Member Selection Process defined by OSBT; July 8, 2009
- Launch of West TSA Neighborhood Comments website for record keeping and public comments; July 8, 2009
- The West TSA Plan – A New Approach to Planning for Boulder Open Space from The Blue Line; January 22, 2010
APR – NOV 2010
PUBLIC PROCESS UNDERWAY
CCG hosts a public meeting to discuss bikes in the West TSA. CCG decides it cannot agree on whether mountain bikes should gain access. Because the group works on consensus, OSMP staff will now make a recommendation to City Council.
- Open Space Department Grapples with Allowing Bikes on Open Space West of Boulder from the Daily Camera; September 3, 2010
- Boulder Trail Advisory Group Deadlocked on Mountain Bikes from the Daily Camera; September 13, 2010
- Mountain Bikers and Conservationists Tell Each Other to Take a Hike by Alan Boles; October 24, 2010
The meeting spurs many opinion pieces.
- Finding Common Ground with Bikes on Trails by Jason Vogel and Ryan Schutz; September 10, 2010
- Does Constituency Matter? by Gary Spung; September 13, 2010
- Bikes on Trails: A Space for Compromise by Erika Stutzman for the Camera editorial board; September 15, 2010
- What Do Mountain Bikers Want? by Jason Vogel; October 27, 2010
CCG PRESENTS THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS
CCG presents a 30-page report at a December 6 Open House, the OSBT December 9 meeting sees over 2 hours of public comments.
- Nearing Completion on the West TSA by Bill Briggs OSBT chairman; November 23, 2010
- Action Alert: West TSA – Time to Show Up on MTBR; December 6, 2010
- Open Space Board Gets an Earful on Plan for Boulder’s Western Trails from the Daily Camera; December 9, 2010
- BMA Appears at Open Space Board Meeting Asking for Trail Access in Western City Trails; December 9, 2010
Jan – Feb 2011
PUBLIC GROUPS AND OSMP STAFF OPPOSE BIKE ACCESS
Prior to the OSBT February 9 board meeting and final City Council vote, staff recommendations and public opinion are not in favor of bike access. Staff does recommend an Eldo to Walker Connector and opening Chapman Drive to bikes. Both suggestions require cooperation from other landowners.
- PLAN-Boulder County Opposes Bike Access in the West TSA; January 11, 2011
- Boulder Staff Recommend No Bikes on Open Space from the Daily Camera; February 1, 2011
- Guest Opinion: Preserving Open Space Means not Everyone Gets What they Want by Michael Patton; February 2, 2011
- Boulder Open Space Group Reflects on Challenges from the Daily Camera; February 5, 2011
- Guest Opinion: A Modest Bike Proposal by Jason Vogel; February 7, 2011
Feb – Mar 2011
The Draft West TSA Plan is released is February 1, 2011. OSBT meets on February 9 to discuss draft plans and hear public comments. On February 10, OSBT has a study session with OSMP staff and directs them to look at a southern connection to Eldorado Springs and bike access to a new Anemone Hill loop trail. The final West TSA plan is released on February 18 and OSBT votes on February 23 for a recommendation to City Council. OSBT votes approval on Eldo to Walker and Chapman Drive options.
- Hundreds Crowd Meeting to Discuss Boulder Mountain Bike Access from the Daily Camera; February 9, 2011
- Boulder Open Space Trustees: Consider More Mountain Bike Access from the Daily Camera; February 10, 2011
- Mountain Biking on Anemone Loop? from The Blue Line; February 12, 2011
- The Long and Winding Trail that Leads to the West TSA by Raymond Bridges; February 17, 2011
- Open Space Board Approves some Mountain Biking West of Boulder from the Daily Camera; February 23, 2011
- It’s About More than Bikes by Bill Briggs OSBT chairman; February 27, 2011
- It’s Not About the Bike from the Boulder Weekly, March 3, 2011
- Boulder Open Space Official: Return to Civility in West TSA Mountain Bike Debate from the Daily Camera; March 9, 2011
- Guest Opinion: Expand Mountain Biking on West TSA by Adam Sklar; March 10, 2011
MOUNTAIN BIKE DECISION UP TO CITY COUNCIL
City Council holds a meeting on March 15 to hear public opinion and sparks more opinion pieces.
- Hundreds Pack Boulder High to Talk about West Trail Area Study from the Daily Camera; March 15, 2011
- West TSA Letter of Support from the League of American Bicyclists; March 16, 2011
- Bikers and ‘Boarders from the Boulder Weekly; March 24, 2011
- Open Space a Precious Legacy by Gwen Dooley, CCG member; March 25, 2011
Mar 19, 2011
OSMP STAFF DISCOVER ILLEGAL ‘ANGRY RANGER’ TRAIL ON FLAGSTAFF MOUNTAIN
Just prior to the City Council vote a Boulder resident and professional mountain bike racer is caught and ticketed for riding an illegal trail. BMA president Jason Vogel writes that BMA does not condone illegal trail building, breaking rules or trespassing.
- Boulder Discovers Illegal, ‘Extreme’ Mountain Bike Trail on Flagstaff from the Daily Camera; March 28, 2011
- Letter to the Editor by Jason Vogel; March 29, 2011
Mar 30, 2011
CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO UPHOLD THE BIKE BAN
City Council goes with staff recommendations for the West TSA and votes to keep bikes out of the West TSA. The Eldo to Walker connection, Chapman Drive and an Anemone loop remain viable.
- Boulder: Dogs can Stay, Bike Ban Continues in West Trail Study Area from the Daily Camera; March 30, 2011
- City Council Decides on West TSA: No north-south connector, possibilities on Anemone trails and Walker connection from BMA news; March 30, 2011
Jul – Nov 2011
ANEMONE HILL MOUNTAIN BIKE OPTIONS CONSIDERED AND THEN DEFEATED
OSMP starts the public process to evaluate Anemone Hill with a public meeting on July 19.
- OSMP to Hold Public Meeting on Anemone Hill Trail Possibilities from BMA news; July 13, 2011
- Anemone Hill Trails – Public Input Meeting from BMA News; July 19, 2011
- Boulder May Make Room for Mountain Bikers in Open Space from the Daily Camera; August 9, 2011
OSBT recommends a 5-mile loop open to bikes while OSMP staff recommends a 3-mile connector trail from Settler’s Park to Fourmile Canyon and keeping the ‘Ridge Loop’ for hikers and equestrians.
- Open Space Board: Allow Bikes on Anemone Hill from the Daily Camera; August 17, 2011
- Boulder Weighs Special Meeting on Anemone Hill Mountain Bike Trail from the Daily Camera, October 17, 2011
- Boulder Staff Recommends Anemone Hill Mountain Bike Connector Trail from the Daily Camera; October 18, 2011
City Council votes no on both options.
- Boulder Bars Mountain Bikes from New Anemone Hill Loop Trail from the Daily Camera; October 25, 2011
- Boulder Mountain Bikers Regroup Following Anemone Hill Decision from the Daily Camera; October 26, 2011
- Boulder Nixes Plan for Anemone Hill Mountain Bike Trail from the Daily Camera; November 8, 2011
DISHEARTENED MOUNTAIN BIKERS LICK THEIR WOUNDS
- The Voters’ Message by Nick Lenssen; November 3, 2011
- Mountain Bike Group: Disheartened, Staying Positive by Jason Vogel; November 10, 2011
- Boulder Mountain Bike Advocate Revokes, then Gives Back Award to Open Space ‘Hero’ from the Daily Camera; November 15, 2011
- Guest Opinion: Mountain Bikers are Welcome in Boulder by Mike Browning; November 18, 2011
- Top 10 Local News Stories of 2011: No. 4, Debate over Boulder’s West Trail Study Area from the Daily Camera; December 27, 2011
Oct 2011 – Jun 2013
Boulder votes to buy parcels and work with a private land trust to open Chapman Drive to bikes. Despite this existing corridor open to emergency vehicles, it still takes a public process to open to bikes. The trail opens in January 2013 but it isn’t until June 2013 that bikes are allowed downhill travel. BMA is disappointed that this isn’t a singletrack trail but hopes that it could one day become part of a longer, off-road regional trail connection.
- Boulder Makes Progress Toward Opening Chapman Drive to Mountain Bikes from the Daily Camera; October 31, 2011
- New Bridge, Trail Set to Open Near Red Lion Inn in Boulder Canyon from the Daily Camera; December 12, 2012
- OSBT Verdict on Chapman Drive from BMA news; March 13, 2013
2013 – 2021
THE ELDO TO WALKER MULTI-USE CONNECTOR TRAIL
The last recommendation of the West TSA is the long anticipated Eldo to Walker Trail. Staff begins a feasibility study in 2013 and the public process kicks off in August 2018. After 6 contentious months, staff puts the Eldo to Walker Trail Connector Public Process on hold while Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducts a Visitor Use Management Study for Eldorado Canyon State Park.
In April 2021 CPW announces that they “will not be adding the multi-use connection to the Eldo-Walker trail. Park operations cannot support building and maintaining a new segment of trail or increasing visitation for another recreational use causing exacerbated safety concerns on the congested park road.“