By Charles Pekow – The entrance to the Moose-Wilson Corridor in Teton National Park may become friendlier for bicyclists. But the rest of the corridor won’t, local bicyclists are complaining. The National Park Service (NPS) issued a Comprehensive Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the section of the Wyoming park. It calls for adding a bike trail along the entrance road and more trailhead parking. But NPS will probably reject options that would have called for longer bike paths along the corridor. NPS released the plan Sept. 2 after a public comment period that solicited 34,370 responses from across the country and 15 foreign nations. (Almost all the responses consisted of form letters from environmental group members.)
NPS plans to finalize its decision in October. As is customary, it outlined four alternatives, including a preferred one. NPS noted that ecological conditions and use of the area have changed in recent years, necessitating a new management strategy. More people have been bicycling in the area since a shared -use pathway between Gros Ventre River and Moose Junction opened in 2012, for instance. The changes have led to increased conflicts between bicycles and autos. The area in question consists of about 10,300 acres in the southwest corner of the park. NPS is trying to come up with a management plan that will balance environmental and wildlife preservation with recreational use of the park. It wants to limit the number of autos that can enter at any time.
Alternative A, as is standard in these statements, would maintain the status quo, allowing bicycles on roadways when they are clear of snow and ice and in parking lots.
Alternative B would reduce the speed limit from 25 to 20 mph to reduce conflicts between motorists and bicyclists who share the roadways. The alternative would move the Death Canyon Trailhead and build a lot with parking for 60 cars. The plan includes increasing bike parking at popular destinations and more signage.
Alternative C, NPS’ preferred one which it intends to adopt, would do the same as B but but allow parking for 80-90 cars at the Death Canyon Trailhead. It would also call for building a multi-use trail between Moose and the Granite Canyon Entrance. The plan would forbid special events on the pathway and allow for closure during darkness or to manage wildlife. NPS would install a buffer between the roadway and path. The plan calls for a 10-foot wide path but does not specify the width of the buffer.
But bicyclists would have to continue sharing Moose-Wilson Road with drivers if they want to go further north. NPS would pave the unpaved portion of the road, which could make cycling more comfortable. The alternative calls for limiting the number of autos that could enter the area at a time and reserves the right to limit the number of bicycles “(i)f monitoring associated with indicators and thresholds demonstrates an increase in impacts on visitor experience or resources in the corridor due to bicycle use,” a situation that doesn’t currently exist. Under the plan, cyclists would use a separate path from Moose into the park and across an irrigation ditch and would be separated from autos at the entrance, explains Daniel Noon, chief of planning and environmental compliance for Grand Teton.
Alternative D would do the most to expand bicycling facilities, including building a multi-use trail along the entire Moose-Wilson Road. The 7.7-mile road serves as the primary route to popular visitor destinations, including Death Canyon and Granite Canyon trailheads. Such a trail would also connect with other popular destinations and compete a 30-mile loop connecting the towns of Jackson, Moose and Teton Village. Such a trail has been authorized since 2007. The trail would mainly say within 150 feet of the roadway, except when necessary to reroute it for environmental protection. But NPS doesn’t want to build it.
NPS also rejected a suggestion made during the public comment period that it add a one-way climbing lane for bicycles on uphill segments of Moose-Wilson Road (north of the Sawmill Ponds viewing area and within the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve) , as bicyclists slow down going uphill. NPS responded that adding the lanes would harm the environment and “historical character of the road,” as well as encourage motorists to park illegally.
“In the preferred option, we didn’t do the longer bike trail primarily because the resource impacts were so significant” Noon explains. “it would affect cultural resources, damage scenery and could lead to more surprise encounters with grizzly bears who could come out of the buffer and surprise folks, he adds.
The recently-released EIS notes that the increased bicycling and other visitor use have led to more interactions with grizzlies, black bears, wolves and moose. Park employees plan to increase education – such as providing info to cyclists at waysides when they enter the park that would warn them to stay 100 feet away from bears and how to ride the roads safety. “We would also close the corridor when grizzly bears are present until they are no longer in the area,” Noon says.
Grand Teton’s press office issued a statement saying work on the plan may begin next year but it could take a decade or more to fully implement “depending on funding and staffing.”
But the plan doesn’t please local bicycle advocates. Jackson-based Friends of Pathways wants the path extended to the preserve. While the preferred alternative lowers the speed limit, paving the road could encourage speeding, the group fears. “Generally the speeds are self limiting because the road is unpaved and winding and potholey. It is inconvenient for cycling” but the conditions keep the traffic slow, says Friends Executive Director Katherine Dowson. “Paving the road may make people go faster.” A lower speed limit won’t help unless NPS enforces it, Dowson warns. ”That will take staff and funding. I don’t know what kind of priority they’ll put on that….A sign just doesn’t do it.”
She also fears that NPS’ plan to limit the number of autos entering the park could strain other local roads. A solution would be to encourage people to ride bikes by increasing facilities for them, the group thinks.
And Molly Breslin, co-founder of Empowered Cycling, a Jackson Hole women’s cycling group, complained that NPS indicated it will include bicyclists and pedestrians when it limits the number of people who can enter the park at any one time. “We hope we get them to reconsider some things,” she says. “Maybe we can get some data next year about how many cyclists are using the roads.” And the scenery leads to distracted driving, increasing the hazards for cyclists, she adds.