Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

14 Oct 2019

On Horse Gulch Road, is a ban on e-bikes grounded in law?

Posted by Adam Howell


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Don’t let the new “No E-bikes” sign at the gate to Horse Gulch Road mislead you. Electrical assisted bicycles are allowed on the road that’s in the county’s jurisdiction right behind that sign, according to Megan Graham, La Plata County’s Public Information Officer.

A new sign at the gate to Horse Gulch Road is a little bit misleading.

Electric bikes are only allowed on the non-maintained road for a short distance, however.

That’s because the road goes from the county to the city’s jurisdiction a couple hundred feet past the gate.

In May of 2016, the city adopted Ordinance 2016-10 that restricted the use of e-bikes in city open space, parks and trail systems.

Furthermore, Section 18-34 of Article III of Chapter 18 of the Durango Code of Ordinances prohibits the driving, operating, or parking of any motor vehicle on any park, playground, trail, recreational facility or city owned or managed open space except in areas maintained and marked as a public street, driveway or parking area.

More recently, city of Durango staff installed a sign at their gate to Horse Gulch Road, aka County Road 237, that goes through Horse Gulch opens space lands. It reads, “No Ebikes No Pedal Assist.”

Keep in mind that I am not an attorney or legal expert, and there could be alternative explanations of the law that have not yet been explored or understood for this article.

At first glance of the sign, one may question the legal standing of banning e-bikes on the road given the historical context of it being recognized as County Road 237.

After all, the county road directly behind the gate at Horse Gulch trailhead is in the county’s jurisdiction for a couple hundred feet, according to Durango Police Department Chief Bob Brammer.

This change in jurisdiction can also be confirmed on Plata Maps, the county’s GIS mapping software.


Motorized vehicles banned, but electric bikes are allowed?

News flash: electric bikes are allowed on the parts of Horse Gulch Road that are in the county’s jurisdiction, even though motorized vehicles are banned on the road. How confusing is that?

This sign used to be posted at the entrance to Horse Gulch Road in Durango. The sign was removed, and electrical assisted bicycles are allowed on the parcels that the road goes through that are still in the county’s jurisdiction, according to Megan Graham, La Plata County’s Public Information Officer.

What’s confusing, is that even with the motorized vehicle prohibition, the county does not have a policy on e-bikes, and e-bikes are allowed on the road, said Graham.

The road has been gated off to motorized vehicles for several decades.

Since 1994, motorized vehicles are prohibited on County Road 237 where it goes through Horse Gulch open space lands. The County Commissioners banned motorized vehicles through Horse Gulch because of the clear and present danger of mixing them with recreational non-motorized traffic, according to Resolution No 1994-64. Commissioners gave their reasoning for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community in resolutions passed in 1994, 2001 and 2002.

County Commissioner Resolution Number 1994-64, Horse Gulch Road, PDF click here.
County Commissioner Resolution 2001-13, Horse Gulch Road, PDF click here.
County Commissioner Resolution Number 2002-18, PDF click here.

People can view the parcel and road ownership details on La Plata Maps, which says that Horse Gulch Road is called County Road 237 where it passes through city open space lands. It also says that the road is “private,” whatever that means.

This identification of the road as “private,” and as “County Road 237” may be inaccurate since it’s a public road that’s maintained with public tax dollars AND because it presumably is no longer a county road where it passes through the city’s jurisdiction.

The county disclaims the accuracy of information on La Plata Maps with the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer: This data is for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for a true title search, property appraisal, survey, or for zoning verification. La Plata County assumes no legal responsibility for the accuracy of the data on this website.

City annexation of Horse Gulch Road and open space lands

In April of 2014, the city of Durango annexed most of Horse Gulch opens space lands. Their new jurisdictional authority over the land also included ownership of the road that passes through it, according to Jim Davis, the County Engineer.

As part of the annexation, the City of Durango Community Development Department created the Horse Gulch Municipal Lands Annexation Impact Report 2-20-14, PDF click here.

In addition, the Durango City Council passed a Horse Gulch Annexation Ordinance, PDF clicke here.

Horse Gulch Road was mostly annexed by the City of Durango in 2014.

Nowadays, anyone who is caught riding an electric bike on Horse Gulch Road through open space lands in the city’s jurisdiction is committing a petty misdemeanor criminal offense, according to Judge James Casey, via his clerk Paula, who did not want to give her last name. The penalty for such a conviction is dependent on the circumstances of the violation, according Judge Casey, via Paula.

In order to get busted for riding an ebike on city open space lands, three things would have to occur, said Chief Brammer:

  1. Someone has to report the e-biker to the police.
  2. The e-biker has to be positively identified, ticketed and issued a summons by police. Citing e-bikers is a low priority for the police department, said Brammer.
  3. The reporting party has to show up to court to testify against the e-biker.

The city of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board discussed the idea of allowing e-bikes on its natural surface trails at their October 14, 2019 meeting. A decision was not made, but the board will probably revisit the topic at their next meeting in November.

Adam Howell is a writer who cares about bicycle access on public lands. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.


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