Colorado 600 – Trails Awareness Symposium
Written and Photos by Chad de Alva
Republished with permission from Upshift Online: Issue 86 – October 2023
The story of off-road motorcycle riding in the western United States is typically told using words like closed, managed, and re-designated. Veteran riders all have their stories about how we used to be able to ride here, or there used to be a trail that connected there, and trails that used to be for dirt bikes that are now closed to motorized use. These stories are usually followed by discussions of how motorcycle advocacy has almost always been a game of defense: we’re constantly on our back foot, holding up our figurative shield against the onslaught of those who close our trails. The game has been to minimize damage to our riding opportunities, but over the years we’ve lost quite a bit of ground. Yet a Colorado based non-profit organization called the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA), has been working to change our stance from defense to offense. The TPA has been supporting local clubs and advocating for off-road riding opportunities in Colorado and the surrounding states. The TPA hosts the Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium, a five-day riding and advocacy symposium that was held in South Fork, CO for 2023. At the 600, TPA shared their history, current state, and future plans for motorcycle advocacy – and it’s something you need to be a part of.
The Trails Preservation Alliance is unique in the world of off-road motorcycle advocacy. While local clubs are the boots on the ground, engaged with their local land managers and working on issues in their respective back yards, the TPA exists to support the efforts of local clubs and advocate for off-road riding on a state-wide level. Whether a new club needs support to get up and running, or an established club needs help with a fight to keep their backyard trails open, or additional support to make projects go, the TPA has the resources to help. This combination has proven to be quite effective, and off-road motorcycling would be in a better place if a TPA existed in every state. A recent example of the impact of the TPA’s efforts was just announced in south-western Colorado.
The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest, which encompasses 3.2 million acres of land in western Colorado just released their draft Record of Decision (ROD) on the first forest plan that they’ve completed in 40 years. Forest plans are supposed to be completed every ten to fifteen years, so the impact of this decision is that much more significant. What’s exciting about this draft ROD, is that out of all the proposed alternatives that the forest could have chosen, they chose the one that creates a minimal amount of wilderness and could allow for more motorized recreation op- opportunities (read: new trails) when the forest starts their next round of travel management. The draft ROD specifically states that the forest planners received “a large number” of helpful comments that were advocating for motorized recreation on the proposed alternatives, and these comments were submitted by the TPA, local clubs, and many other motorized users.
In Upshift 62 the feature story on 2021 Colorado 600 specifically mentions the GMUG being in the planning process for this forest plan, and the importance of commenting on the process. Two years later, the results of those advocacy efforts have paid off. Instead of taking another hit to the number of motorized trails in the GMUG inventory, effective comment submittals by motorized users have contributed to a win: a forest plan that allows for more motorized recreation opportunities.
The TPA has also been working on what they call the Colorado Off-Road Motorcycle Strategic Plan. By working with GIS specialists, biologists and other subject matter experts, they’ve been able to capture a comprehensive picture of the current inventory of trails in Colorado, and what potential opportunities exist for improving motorized recreation. According to COTREX data, there are 2,273 miles of motorized single track currently in Colorado. Note that many of these trails have seasons and are only open for a few months out of the year in many cases. There are currently 23,661 miles of non-motorized trails in Colorado, but if a trail is designated as motorized, any other user group can use it. If you sum up the total mileage of motorized single track, 50-inch ATV trails, and non-motorized trails, you get 28,351 miles of trail for non-motorized recreation. Motorized single track is 8% of the total trail mileage in the state.
The Strategic Plan also identifies a number of opportunities for improving off-road motorcycle recreation in Colorado. Objectives such as more trails, youth and beginner trails, connecting existing systems, and creating loop routes were just a few of the concepts mentioned. Looking at the map of where all of these new opportunities could go is exciting – there is so much potential out there for new riding.
If we as off-road motorcyclists want to protect the trails that we have today, and to create new trails to ride in the future, WE ALL need to get involved today. Riders cannot just assume that trails will continue to exist for our enjoyment and that someone else is going to make this happen. Make no mistake about it, there are well organized, very well funded user groups out there that would love to get dirt bikes off our public lands. This fight is ongoing, and every rider needs to get in the game.
Here is what you need to do: join your local trails club. This should be standard practice for every off-road rider. Ideally that means going to some club meetings and participating in events like trail work days, but at the bare minimum, you need to pay to be a member. Clubs are not service providers, so become an active member, not just a subscriber.
Support the local clubs anywhere you travel to ride. Determine who cares for the trails where you’re going and find out what you can do to help. Become a member of that club and treat the trails you’re riding on like they are your local trails. If you come across a tree that’s down or some other thing that needs attention while you’re out riding, either fix it yourself or let the club know. Respect gets respect, and caring for the trails you’re using will get you respect from anyone else you run into while out riding. Working on a trail also wins you all the good will with other user groups, especially non-motorized users.
Get involved with land managers and their management processes. The fact of the matter is that land managers take time to make decisions, so we need to exert what the TPA calls hydraulic pressure by being vigilant, patient, and contributing constructively at every step of the process. The GMUG ROD is a great example of how fast (read: slow) this process goes, but it’s also a great example of how engaging in the process can result in favorable outcomes.
The 2023 Colorado 600 Trails Awareness Symposium was empowering. Over the course of four days, we got to learn about exactly what the TPA has been doing, is currently doing, and is planning on doing in the future. Each day started with a presentation over breakfast, and then we spent the balance of the day riding everything from adventure bikes to dirt bikes on some of the best single track in the state. When you learn about something during a presentation, and then get to experience it firsthand by riding on it, the combination is quite moving and thought provoking.
What if there was a TPA in every western state? What if all of these states had a Strategic Plan that painted a data-driven picture of what our current and potential riding opportunities are? What if every local club had a TPA backing them up at the state level, and bringing additional resources to bear when needed? How many more riding opportunities could we create by doing these things?
The only way to find out is to get involved and put in the work. If you’re already part of a club and involved in making the world a better place to ride, then good on you. If you’re not, you know what you need to do. Call out your riding buddies that aren’t involved as well. Off-road motorcycle advocacy is building momentum toward a better riding future, and getting more riders involved will only help produce better results. Events like the TPA’s Colorado 600 are a great way to learn more about the world of off-road riding advocacy, and a great way to see firsthand the trails that are worth protecting, and the trails we can work to create in the future.
The Colorado 600 wouldn’t be possible without support from the following companies: Rocky Mountain ATV/ MC, Motion Pro, KLIM, MotoMinded, Texas Sidewinders MC, Billet Racing Products, Apex Motorsports, Centura / St. Anthony Pre-hospital Services, Doubletake Mirrors, AMA, KTM, Upshift Online, Dunlop, Stuck Nutz, Kate’s Real Food, Tomichi Creek Trading Post, Dave Mungenast Motorsports, Slavens Racing, TBK Bank, and Monarch Investment Group.
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