Mountain bikers are trying to show they can coexist with cows on the Crown.
The Mid Valley Trails Committee teamed with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and the Bureau of Land Management last week to install two cattle guards that replace gates on grazing allotments on the Crown, the hump of land between the Roaring Fork River and Mount Sopris in the midvalley.
The Crown is ground zero in the collision of New West and Old West. It’s evolved into a hotspot for mountain bikers, but there are also several, decades-old federal grazing allotments for area ranchers.
Ranchers complain that as recreation use soars, it’s becoming harder for them to use historic grazing lands. Gates get left open, and cattle wander onto other allotments or to private property.
Members of the Mid Valley Trails Committee wanted to show ranchers they are sympathetic to their concerns and can ease some of them, said Temple Glassier, consultant to the committee. The committee purchased six cattle guards for $585 each for a total of $3,510, she said.
Trails Committee Chairman and cycling enthusiast George Trantow helped install the cattle guards.
“It’s good for the mountain-biking community and trail enthusiasts to put an olive branch out there,” he said. “We’re trying to share a resource.”
The trails committee is a branch of Eagle County. It receives sales tax funds to spend on trail improvements in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county.
Todd Fugate, of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, also donated labor to help install the cattle guards.
One cattle guard replaced a barbed-wire gate on the North Porcupine Trail, on the western edge of the Crown. The second cattle guard replaced a flimsy wire gate at the top of a steep trail leading up from the Rio Grande Trail at Rock Bottom Ranch. The cattle guard is in an area known as the Buckhorn Traverse.
Cattle guards were suggested as a tool to ease conflicts when residents commented on a resource-management plan for the Crown in 2009.
Trantow said the cattle guards were placed at the only two places where trails recognized by the BLM go through gates. Two other cattle guards were purchased for use on the Red Ridge Ranch property, formerly Saltonstall, which was purchased with open space funds from Pitkin and Eagle counties as well as Basalt. Pitkin County is working on a management plan for that property, on the eastern side of the Crown, but trails likely won’t be used this year, Trantow said. The remaining two cattle guards will be reserved for use where needed.
Greg Wolfgang, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley field office, said the Mid Valley Trails Committee stepped up with the purchase of the cattle guards. He said cattle guards are a great alternative to gates because cyclists can ride without stopping over the bars that are spaced to prevent cows from crossing. It eliminates the chance of a gate being left open.
“It helps them coexist,” Wolfgang said of bikers and ranchers.
Rory Cerise, a rancher with grazing allotments on the Crown, said any time a gate is replaced with a properly installed cattle guard, “it’s a good thing.” It removes the responsibility of closing a gate.
He said some other gates on his grazing allotment are in greater need of replacement with a cattle guard than the Buckhorn Traverse site, but he appreciated the effort.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
Cerise welcomed news that cattle guards are being reserved for use on Red Ridge Ranch. One of his grazing allotments abuts that property.
Wolfgang said bikers and ranchers need to seek solutions to potential conflicts throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. By his observation, recreation use continues to grow.