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Bicycling is not the first thing people think of when they plan a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. The amazing geologic formations of the park are the main reason for a visit.
But recent efforts to build a multi-use visitor path leading to the park and continuing on to some of its most popular viewpoints could give people a new way to take in the scenery.
The National Park Service and Dixie National Forest are accepting public comment and holding an open house this week to discuss a proposed pedestrian and bike trail leading from Bryce Canyon City to Inspiration Point in the park, some 7 miles. The path could eventually run another mile to Bryce Point.
If completed to its full length, the multi-use path could complete more than 21 miles of bike and walking paths stretching back to Red Canyon on Scenic Byway 12.
Park officials say the new path could help reduce traffic congestion, provide a unique experience for families and promote a healthy way for people to travel in Bryce. Other national parks and their gateway communities have linked bike paths, including Jackson Hole, Wyo. and Grand Teton National Park and Springale and Zion National Park.
An Environmental Assessment of the proposed path includes two possible alignments and the option of doing nothing.
Alignment A, a 7.3-mile route, would parallel State Road 63 and the main park road, but allow some distance from the road. The park's preferred alternative, Alignment A also would provide riders and walkers a more direct path to popular locations like the general store, the Lodge at Bryce Canyon, the North Campground and Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce viewing points.
"It gets away from the road, is a little less expensive and would be a little easier to maintain," said Dan Cloud, chief of facility management at the park. "It would likely be a more pleasant experience and be a fully accessible route from Bryce Canyon City to Inspiration Point then, later, to Bryce Point."
The cost of the entire trail from Bryce Canyon City to Inspiration Point including about a third of a mile outside the park in Bryce Canyon City, eight-tenths of a mile on U.S. Forest Service land and 6.2 miles in the park is expected to be about $4 million. The longest portion, inside the park, would be covered by federal highway funds for alternative transportation programs, according to Cloud. The section between the park boundary and Bryce Canyon City is being funded, at least in part, by the Federal Land Access Program.
Funding has been set aside to cover the trail inside the park to Inspiration Point only. A mile-long extension of the path to Bryce Point would need to be funded separately.
Alignment B would also be a separate path, but would largely follow the main road into the park. Alternative B would not connect directly with popular visitor destinations.
Whichever route is picked, bikes would still be limited to paved areas in the park.
"The path has been well supported by all parties: the state, the city, the county and the forest," Cloud said.
Park managers hope the plan will clear the environmental assessment process and construction can begin in 2015, with the trail opening in early summer 2016.
If the Scenic Byway 12 committee, Bryce Canyon City, Garfield County and Utah Department of Transportation can complete a roughly 4-mile stretch of trail from the current end of the Red Canyon multi-use trail to Bryce Canyon City, bikers would be able make a one-way, 21-mile ride.
Nick Glidden, forest trails wilderness and dispersed recreation program manager for the Dixie National Forest, said his agency is on the same schedule as the park service and comments sent to the NPS website will be shared.
"We have a slightly different process, but we are working in the same time frame," he said.
Ruby's Inn in Bryce Canyon City already rents road and mountain bikes. Officials there expect they would need to increase their fleet should the paths be approved and completed.
"This is a proactive way to deal with increased traffic going into the park," said Bryce Canyon City manager Jean Seiler. "This gives people another option. If people don't want to ride in and out of the park, they can ride the shuttle in and then get on their bikes and follow the path back. It's downhill that way."
The free shuttle system at Bryce includes buses with bike racks.
The trail would likely be used year-round.
Cross-country skiing is a popular winter activity at Ruby's Inn and in the park when conditions allow. Seiler said Ruby's Inn has offered to help groom the multi-use path when there is enough snow to allow people to ski to all the places they could walk or ride to in the summer.
Bryce Canyon bike-path open house
O An open house about a proposed visitor path from Bryce Canyon City through Dixie National Forest land and into Bryce Canyon National Park will be held Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Bryce Canyon City Public Safety Building, 70 W. 100 North, in Bryce Canyon City. U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service staff will be at the meeting. Public comments on the Environmental Assessment for the path can be provided at the meeting or submitted online by visiting parkplanning.nps.gov/brca