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Mountain biking opens at Lee Canyon after years-long fight for butterfly protection

Lee Canyon opened its first outdoor summer sports area on Thursday, highlighted by two downhill mountain bike courses, after a lengthy legal battle to protect an endangered butterfly species in the mountain stalled the project.

The two trails, distinguished by expert and intermediate skill levels, cut through the woods with switchbacks down the canyon. Dozens of riders tested the new track Thursday as part of a ribbon cutting ceremony.

U.S. Forest Service Spring Mountain Area Manager Deborah MacNeill said that with 100 percent of the mountain bike trails being on forest service land, officials worked to open a space that could be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts while remaining sustainable for the local species.

“Part of the reason we’re all out here is to enjoy the great outdoors,” she said during the ceremony. “It’s finding the balance of how do you enjoy the outdoors and the Bristlecone Trail behind us and the ski area and not make this an urban park.”

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, North Las Vegas City Councilman Scott Black, Save Red Rock President Heather Fisher and Rob Hutchinson, of the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition, were among those on the inaugural ride, which began just before thunder started to rumble over the mountains.

Lt. Gov. Lisa Cano Burkhead echoed MacNeill’s message, saying organizers took “great efforts” to protect native species while building an area that tourists and residents could go to enjoy the outdoors.

“Nevada and Las Vegas are so much more than just our world-class resorts on the Strip,” she said. “Across our state, we have some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the entire country. Some of them, like this one, are just a quick drive from the city.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in November 2020 opposing Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort’s expansion to include the mountain biking trails because officials said the project would impact the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, which is native to the Spring Mountains and is only active in the summertime.

The suit was resolved by the Center for Biological Diversity in January.

“We’re pleased that the settlement we reached with Lee Canyon protects the Mount Charleston blue butterfly while allowing these new recreational activities to proceed,” Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in a message to the Review-Journal on Thursday. “We will be keeping a close eye on the condition of the butterfly’s habitat at Lee Canyon, to ensure that the ski area, the Forest Service, and recreational users are all doing their part to protect this special creature.”

Lee Canyon General Manager Dan Hooper said Thursday that he hopes to open seven more miles of trail and offer rental bikes by next summer.

“Protecting the integrity of the Spring Mountains was front and center through that design phase,” Hooper said.

Colin Robertson, director of the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation, said outdoor recreation brought in $4 billion statewide last year, employing more than 49,000 people.

Robertson was thrilled to see another investment into outdoor activities added to Southern Nevada.

“Spend a day or a morning out on Lee Canyon’s slopes and trails, and you’ll find one of the most diverse and welcoming outdoor places and a workforce reflecting those values,” he said.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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