Editor's Note: On Monday, Phil Bouchard of Full Send Bike Ranch sat down with Denver7 for an interview following Sunday's story featuring opposition group, Stop Full Send Bike Ranch. This story has been updated to include Bouchard's responses to the group's concerns and/or claims.
CONIFER, Colo. — A proposed mountain bike park near Conifer has become a polarizing topic. Those who call the area home see it as a potential risk, and avid mountain bikers see it as an untapped outlet for the community.
"Right now, we are about right here and this is going to be the whole development," said Raena Chatwin, guiding her hand along an enlarged map of project plans. "Within 1.5 miles you have the high school, junior high and elementary school."
Word of the project first broke during the fall of 2020.
The mountain bike park would develop 250 acres off of Shadow Mountain Drive just west of Conifer and create 16 miles of trails with chairlift access. Project creators spoke with Denver7 back in January about the projected 2023 opening.
"We knew that this was polarizing... That it was going to get people that were opposed to it or had concerns. [They] were going to be vocal," Phil Bouchard, who's leading strategy for the team, said in early 2021.
Bouchard wasn't wrong. Those opposed to the project have been rallying for over a year. On Monday, Bouchard said he and his planning team could refute most of the group's concerns.
Opposition group sounds off
"For our health and wellness, this will be a detriment for us and make it more dangerous to live here," Chatwin said. "We have over 4,600 people that have signed our petition, and over half of those live within a few miles of this area."
Community members told Denver7 on Sunday they have a long list of reasons why they believe the area is not ideal for a bike park, including traffic, wildfire danger, natural resource depletion and first responder availability.
"People who would be visiting the bike ranch are not familiar with this road, with all of its curves and blind driveway entrances," said Ellen Keckler, a member of Stop Full Send Bike Ranch.
Keckler said she's also concerned about how the bike park would impact local residents' well water. She said she's concerned the developers would be permitted for a well with increased flow rate.
Chatwin said she and others are concerned about the potential to evacuate if there was a wildfire.
"There's one egress point out of here, so you're looking at the 2,000 homes trying to evacuate," she said.
According to a recreation planning lease obtained through a public records request, the opposition group said they have reason to believe the bike park will go through an expedited process to break ground.
"So, there's some urgency for us to get the word out about our concerns and about what we are seeing," Chatwin said. "I think having a downhill bike park is a great idea. This is not the location to do it."
Full Send Bike Ranch co-founder speaks out
"I understand people are resistant to the concept of development, and I frankly think any development that was proposed on that property will not meet their definition of whatever they think it should be," Bouchard said. "I think, ultimately, they would want it preserved or untouched. But, again, when you think about the reality of how the property is zoned and what the future of that looks like, given its proximity to population centers and Conifer's growth in general, we feel like a recreational development that opens for the community ...does wildfire mitigation, and keeps large scale residential or commercial development out ...is a is a fair proposal for the property."
Bouchard provided these responses to concerns and comments raised by the park's opponents:
- Jefferson County zoning processes:
- We are working through the Location and Extent process as we seek approval from Jefferson County to build the park. There are people saying that it somehow subverts Jefferson County’s traditional zoning processes or is a faster path to approval. It certainly doesn’t subvert the zoning process, and I would push back on the idea that it’s an accelerated process. It’s true that there are fewer public hearings in the Location and Extent process, but it requires a lot more work to be done upfront by the developer. There are also not the same avenues for appeal if our proposal gets denied. The hearings in Location and Extent are as public and transparent as any other zoning process in Jefferson County.
- Safety/traffic: The opposition is claiming that we will have 700+ cars per day traveling to and from the park.
- We are not projecting 700+ cars per day to be visiting the park. We have said that we’ll cap the park’s capacity at 700 visitors per day, and that we will build roughly a 300 car parking lot to accommodate that peak capacity. We will be doing a lot of things to discourage single occupancy vehicles and encourage carpooling. Based on preliminary conversations with traffic engineers, we believe a 300 car lot is sufficient to service a peak day of 700 visitors. We are also open to mechanisms like a reservation system to make sure we don’t strain our infrastructure and exceed the park’s capacity.
- Emergency response: The opposition claims the park will overburden Conifer’s EMS resources and impact resident’s ability to get care in the event of an emergency.
- We don’t believe the park will add pressure to EMS resources. Currently MTB related EMS response is dispersed on community trails with most serious incidents requiring responders to pack in and evacuate the patient. We believe the park would be a streamlined alternative to today’s situation. We will also have our own EMS resources at the park and believe that the park’s EMS resources would reduce most of the heavy lifting that the county resources usually have to do.
- Wildfire: The opposition claims that the park will increase the risk of forest fire on the property and therefore on the community.
- The property where we’re proposing the park is one of the highest risk properties in the Conifer Area for forest fires. This is because the property is completely unmitigated and has never been addressed for forest fire mitigation. Our proposal will come with a formal forest fire mitigation plan that will bring the entire property into a healthy status in three to five years, a major improvement over today’s situation. One of Elk Creek’s firefighters recently commented anonymously on Facebook advocating for the park as a forest fire mitigation asset. Our mitigation work would be done at no cost to the community.
- Air and water: The opposition says the car pollution, human waste and water needs of adding 700+ mountain bikers daily to the area will have detrimental impacts on existing air quality and neighborhood wells, impacting the ability for existing groundwater to recharge itself.
- Again, 700 cars a day is an inaccurate representation. When it comes to public health and environmental impacts our projections are in line with several single family homes. We’re not operating a restaurant, and will be closed for five to six months of the year. We believe that our natural resource impact will fall below what the property is currently zoned for. And, certainly, well below any kind of residential development that could easily be placed on the property. We’re also committed to zero emission land management once the park is open, meaning we will use electric equipment and will design all of our infrastructure to leverage eco-friendly and renewable energy technologies.
- Wildlife: The opposition says the proposed development area is home to many species of wildlife, including some endangered species, as well as their migratory patterns.
- We don’t currently believe there are any documented endangered species on the property and believe the property falls in the low impact category for species currently leveraging it. Also, most of our proposed infrastructure is on a portion of the property that is already fenced off to large game. The park will also be closed for half of the year, so wildlife will be able to leverage the property much like they do today. It's also important to point out that while the property is 500 acres, we are only proposing to use 250 of it. But we will lease the entire thing as part of our arrangement with the State Land Board, meaning the remaining 250 will be untouched and preserved from other types of development/impact.
The Colorado Mountain Bike Association expressed support of the project to our partners The Denver Post.
“They’re coming at this from a clean sheet design,” said Gary Moore, executive director of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association. “They could really just do what they want to do without facing restraints. There’s a huge contingent of mountain bikers on the Front Range that aren’t getting access to that style of riding.”
Bouchard said he and his team have not submitted a final planning proposal to Jefferson County but are aiming to do so sometime in the new year.