Swan Mountain bike path moves a step closer to reality | SummitDaily.com

Swan Mountain bike path moves a step closer to reality

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – The prospect of a Swan Mountain Road bike path got a huge boost this week when National Forest representatives announced they have completed an environmental analysis (EA) of the proposed route.

The Dillon Ranger District now wants comments from the public on the pathway and its potential environmental impact.

“This is a huge success, I think, because the (Forest Service) picked the preferred alternative,” said Holly English, the county’s open space and trails resource specialist. “Hopefully, that will stand. I would hope to get started on it in two years, but the process isn’t over.”

The preferred alternative shows the path traveling through the woods between Highway 6 and Highway 9 near Swan Mountain Road. The less desirable alternative was basically widening Swan Mountain Road to make a bike path on the shoulder.

Based on public comment, the U.S. Forest Service could approve the plan as is, or make changes to it. But once the EA is approved, it stands for five years.

Cost to build the path is estimated at between $4 million and $6 million.

“We don’t exactly have that sitting in the coffers,” English said. “The first thing the county would do is work diligently to obtain grant money to build the path.”

English hopes to have it done in its entirety by 2008.

The Swan Mountain Road portion of the path would complete a looped trail system around Dillon Reservoir. It’s a sorely needed section, but because of steep grades and environmental concerns, one that has been long in the making.

“With Swan Mountain Road already on that hillside, there’s already a cut and pretty decent scar in some places. We don’t want to add to that,” said Sue Miller, spokeswoman for the White River National Forest.

“We looked for ways to build it that we wouldn’t add to the impacts that are already there from the road. Also, due to the steepness of the slopes between Sapphire Point and Blue River inlet, there’s going to be a pretty decent cut there.”

The Forest Service also has scrutinized the area for wildlife and impacts to it.

“Bald eagles use the Blue River inlet in the winter for fishing because it’s some of the only open water. And anytime you affect timbered areas, we have concerns with lynx (habitat). The area around Lowry Campground is winter range and severe winter range for elk, and so that was a concern as well. We added some mitigation measures in the EA that would protect the bald eagles and elk,” Miller said.

While the EA addresses concerns for wildlife and the environment, the separated bike path could ease fears about human safety. Bicyclists now travel the narrow, winding road on the highway, competing with motorists.

“There are huge safety issues on Swan Mountain Road,” said English, a bicyclist who frequently takes the road. “It’s scary, and right now, a huge impediment for a lot of people.”

Not everyone thinks the bike path connection is necessary.

Hal Clark, a manager at Great Adventure Sports, said most serious cyclists don’t ride on the bike path anyway, and doesn’t think most tourists could handle the steep grades of Swan Mountain Road.

“I think it might be a waste of money,” he said. “On the bike path, people don’t pay attention because it’s not a street. Most of the time, I’d rather take my chances with a vehicle versus running over or into a little kid.”

Clark admits, however, he’s not an average cyclist; he rides an average of 250 to 300 miles a week.

English said the project likely will be done in two phases, the first section running from Summit Cove to Lowry Campground. When it’s completed, English said, “We would truly have a world-class bike path. We’re a recreation-based economy. What a great asset for the community as well as the economy.”

The pathway will – like the rest of the county’s system – be designed for a variety of users, including cyclists, walkers, runners and inline skaters.

Comments can be sent to District Ranger Jamie Connell at the

Dillon Ranger District, Box 620, Silverthorne, 80498. They must be postmarked by June 24. For a copy of the EA, call Sue Miller at (970)262-3456 or e-mail her at smiller@fs.fed.us.

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