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(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Eric Morrow, left, Troy Lupcho, right, and Rich Etchberger ride joke around before riding the Retail Sale trail in Vernal in this 2006 file photo.
Vernal has growing system of trails, but for how long?

A proposed truck route would require the demolition of much of the McCoy Flats system.

First Published Aug 06 2014 11:51 am • Last Updated Aug 06 2014 09:07 pm

Vernal might not have the national reputation as a biking mecca like Moab or Park City, but the little town in northeastern Utah more and more has become the destination of choice for many mountain bikers.

What draws them are about 100 miles of buff, single-track trails filled with fun but very few people.

At a glance

McCoy Flats trail system

» Located 10 miles west of Vernal

» Approximately 10 trails covering 60 miles

» Sampling of the trails include: Fire Sale, which is a 2.5-mile technical trail. Jackalope, which is a 6.9-mile trail that extends from the main trailhead. and the Milk. Cookies loop, which is a 5.8-mile loop.

» For more information, see www.utahmountainbiking.com

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But now, some of the area’s best flowing tracks are on the so-called endangered list, thanks to a transportation project aimed at routing some traffic around downtown Vernal.

The proposal is for the 12-mile Ashley Valley Energy Route to extend from U.S. 40 at McCoy Flats on the west end of town to the highway south of Naples on the east end of town.

While such a route might alleviate some of the heavy truck traffic through town, it would also demolish some of the trail system that locals have worked so hard to build over the last 10 to 15 years.

The area boasts about 60 miles of trails with an established trailhead that has a bathroom, pavilion and signs, thanks in part to funding from the local Bureau of Land Management office.

While the proposed route would avoid the trailhead, it would still disrupt some of the trails.

Such a prospect has many cyclists upset.

Troy Lupcho, a former BMX world champion, is responsible for much of the trail building after he returned to his home town and opened his bike shop, Altitude Cycles.

The initial trails followed cow and sheep trails, making Vernal’s landscape unique for mountain bikers. While Moab is known for slick rock and Park City is known for its alpine trails, Vernal is becoming a favorite for its swoopy, narrow, twisting single track that will test any biker’s handling skills.

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He is passionate about defending the trails and has been outspoken at local meetings on the subject. What rankles him is the thought that development could actually have a negative impact on the area instead of helping it.

"I’ve invested a lot, emotionally and physically," he said. "This is an area that is like going 30 years back in time. You have these great trails, but you can camp there, take your dog there, all these things, and we could lose it."

The trail systems offer a wide variety of pedaling fun, from the upper-intermediate challenges of Retail Sale, to the easier Milk and Cookies loop, to the eyebrow-raising "More Hoes" technical section. The McCoy Flats area offers a little bit of something for everyone.

"The McCoy Flats trails are destination trails," said Bruce Argyle, the editor of Utahmountainbiking.com. "Mountain bikers travel to Vernal from the Wasatch Front for the sole purpose of riding these great routes. The trails also attract bike riders from outside our state. The truck route is a concern to all of us, not just a few mountain bikers in Vernal. To have a portion of this trail system destroyed would be a significant loss to the Utah cycling community."

The Bureau of Land Management currently is performing an environmental analysis to determine just how many trails would be affected, according to Megan Crandall, the BLM’s spokesperson.

The assessment is expected to be released for public review and comment in the fall, Crandall said.

"I do like to always remind folks that their participation in these efforts is critical," she said. "So when the E.A. is released, we really do encourage people to take the time to review it and submit their comments."

The BLM already knows the area is popular, with trailhead counters installed in October 2013 noting about 26,000 visits to the McCoy Flats area in a year’s time, Crandall said.

"These statistics are conservative because they do not include individuals who access the trails from dispersed campgrounds in the immediate area or visitors who did not park at the trailhead," she said.

However, the area wasn’t as established back in 2006, when it was first discussed as a location for the road extension, said Cheri McCurdy, the director of the Uintah Transportation Special Service District.

"There has been a lot of growth out there, we recognize that," she said. "We are waiting for the BLM to finish its process, but we are willing to mitigate because we know the trails are an issue."

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