BY ALAN GIONET
UPDATED ON: SEPTEMBER 7, 2023 / 3:41 PM MDT / CBS COLORADO
Plans for a 200 plus acre bike park along Shadow Mountain Drive in Conifer remain up in the air as opponents build up their efforts, while proponents of the facility work to answer concerns.
“Our application to the county is not just a couple napkins with ‘Phil and Jason want to build a bike park’ on it,” said potential bike park developer Phil Bouchard.
Bouchard and Jason Evans are attempting to develop the first dedicated commercial mountain biking park in Colorado where the market, they believe, is very big.
“We really are two people who are passionate about the sport of mountain biking and not just the sport of mountain biking, but how it can come in and add value to communities like the Conifer and Evergreen area.”
The design calls for a chairlift up Shadow Mountain that the proponents say will not be as high as ski chairs because it will be created for non-winter use and will not have to clear snowpack. Plans also call for a base lodge and maintenance facility as well as a parking lot and trails.
“If you look around this neighborhood, there is no commercial development here,” said John Lewis, a local resident who is part of an organized opposition group, Stop the Bike Park. Increasing numbers of signs opposing the park have gone up around the area as the group has made efforts to get it dropped. “We have a clear idea of what we need to show them that this proposal can never happen,” said Lewis.
The land where it would be constructed off Shadow Mountain Drive belongs to the Colorado State Land Board. The board holds and leases 4 million acres of trust land in order to earn money for Colorado public schools. The board has generated over $600 million in revenue for schools in the past 15 years. But the board is largely deferring a decision on the use of the land to Jefferson County.
Among the objections of the Stop the Bike Park group are worried about increased traffic on Shadow Mountain Drive.
“The road is already overtaxed. So any cars that you add to it are going to make (problems), there’s no way it’s going to make it better,” said Lewis.
The group has pulled accident data to share, including a history of fatal accidents on the road to make their case.
“The reasons are purely with safety and its safety for our community, and its safety for our environment,” said Barbara Moss Murphy, who has lived on the road for 40 years.
The biking group says it has responded to some of the objections with changes.
“We’re proposing a parking lot for no more than 300 cars that will be managed by a reservation system. So this isn’t show up and ride whenever you want, come and go as you please,” said Bouchard. “We envision a scenario where our visitors are largely using the roadway at hours where you don’t have peak traffic from residents.”
Three hundred cars could mean 600 trips back and forth on busy days. Traffic counts have shown about 2,500 cars a day along the road. But on busy days there could be more than 300 cars parked at the bike park. Some people might bike for only a half day and additional cars would arrive. There would also be workers to add to the count.
There are other objections, too — worries about burdening emergency medical services among them.
“We’re going to have our own EMS facility at the park, which public trails do not have,” Bouchard pointed out.
There could however be ambulance needs, which he noted that additional tax dollars would help fund. Another objection is with wildlife. The area is habitat for many animals, including elk. The forest is currently dense and not mitigated, which is a fire risk. The biking group has said it will mitigate the land.
“So this property is not in a healthy state today and is frankly a risk to everyone who lives around it,” said Bouchard.
Bouchard has also noted that the land board has sold some land over the years for housing, which he says is the most likely alternative use if the bike park is not approved. But the state, says opponents, has not indicated the land is for sale at this time. They believe the land would best be preserved and have discussed setting up a trust to buy it. But the value of the land would surely be well into the millions, a significant undertaking. They are hoping for preservation, saying no commercial use fits.
“Even the state land board boasts about preserving the environment, open spaces that we have because it’s rapidly depleting. So OK, let’s do it,” said Lewis.
The land is currently zoned for agriculture and would need re-zoning to allow for the bike park. The Planning Commission and the County Commissioners would have to sign off on the bike park proposal. While the state has a fiduciary responsibility to earn money from Colorado lands, “We would not necessarily take that into consideration,” said Jeffco’s Planning and Zoning Director Chris O’Keefe.