New Vail Pass permit requirement worries area bike shops
Ryan Summerlin October 12, 2012
Given new requirements by the U.S. Forest Service, 15 bicycle rental companies that drop off customers to trails along Vail Pass will need a permit by Nov. 1 to continue the service.
“If a commercial business uses the national forest, whether they drop off on the national forest or they drop them off in order to access the national forest, they need a permit because its a commercial venture,” said Peech Keller, deputy district ranger and forest environmental coordinator for the Forest Service.
The letter came as bad news for local bike rental shop owners and managers who say the new requirement could devastate their businesses.
“Getting that letter is a little scary because that’s a huge portion of our summer business,” said Robyn Luetkens, manager of Pioneer Sports in Frisco. “If that were to go away, it would hurt us tremendously in the summertime.”
How local businesses will apply for these permits and how the Forest Service will issue them, remains to be seen but the commercial recreation community has a long list of worries.
“It will be a blow to the entire county’s economy if permits are restricted to one entity or a limited number of businesses,” said Kevin Kahle, owner of Rebel Sports in Frisco. “That would certainly hurt a lot of people. This is a way a lot of places make it through the summer months.”
During peak summer months, the 15 businesses dropping off bikers along Vail Pass are concerned about over-crowding and safety.
“I know the locals are sometimes upset about the crowds on the bike path,” Kahle said. “During Christmas time ski slopes are crowded. We’re a tourist community and those activities pump a lot of money into the economy.”
Easements along the Interstate 70 corridor have grayed the definition of authority on the recreation paths along Vail Pass.
A few years ago as the popularity of bike tours, snowmobiling and ATV drop-offs increased, a question came up of whether the Forest Service could regulate such activities within the I-70 easement.
“Last year the Forest Service reached the conclusion that not only do we have the legal authority to require permits, we have the legal duty to regulate that area,” said Rich Doaks, recreation staff officer for the White River National Forest.
The Forest Service says the new permit requirement adheres to a fairness issue.
“We already have some commercial businesses that have the permits to operate on Vail Pass, we can’t just regulate a handful of business – that isn’t fair,” Doaks said. “We need to regulate everyone equally and they all have to pay their fair share.”
What the permit process will look like is yet to be seen, local bike shop owners have been told by USFS officials it will take approximately two months to reach a decision, according to Kahle.
“We are moving forward and we’ve taken this issue step by step. We have a lot of questions to answer before we can decide on how the permitting process will work: The safety issue, the fairness issue and the impact on the bike path and how important this is to the public and community recreation,” Doaks said.
All of the parties involved are playing the waiting game.
“We’re waiting to see what we have to do next,” Luetkens said. “Whatever the permit costs, whatever steps we have to take to get it we will because we need this for our business.”
The bike business along Vail Pass is special, Kahle said.
“It’s a great thing that four generations can do together,” he said. “It’s one of the few things you can really do as a big family like that.”