[Cdt-l] Mountain bikes on the CDT

Charlie Thorpe charliethorpe at att.net
Thu Dec 13 12:44:03 CST 2012

Hello All -

Interesting discussion about mountain bikes on the trails we hikers like to use.  

Some comments were made earlier in this thread about the amount of damage done to trails by mountain bikes that don't line up with my own experience on the subject.  I wondered if maybe I had been hiking in unusual places with extremely eco-friendly mountain bikers, so I asked a friend of mine who is a recreation ecologist what kind of science is out there on mountain biking impacts.  

He responded with a draft of the mountain biking chapter in a book he is co-authoring (good overview of recent science on mountain biking impacts with a great bibliography).  He also sent three papers on the social conflicts involving mountain bikers and other trail users.  I will be happy to send the chapter on mountain biking impacts and the three papers on social impacts to anyone interested.

I am not a biker of any kind, but I have met plenty of them on the trails.  Most mountain bikers I have run into in the backcountry have sounded pretty much as caring about the trail environment as any of us hikers.  Most have seemed to be well-educated young to middle aged professionals who generally understand the rules of the trail and mostly try about as hard as most of us to go by them.  I won't vouch for their strange tastes in bike outfits, they otherwise seem OK <g>.

I did  run into a group of Japanese mountain bikers up above treelike on the CDT in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.  We had an interesting time discussing the legality of mountain bikes in a Wilderness Area (I have no Japanese, they had no English).  I think they finally got the drift of my concerns because they turned around and went back down the trail the way they came up.  BTW, they gave me the card of the outfitter who provided the bikes and carried them to the trailhead…I cheerfully made a complaint report about the outfitter to the Forest Service.

I was solo hiking sobo down through Keystone after coming off of Whaleback and that beautiful alpine plateau country.  I hadn't seen another human for days and was lost in thought (solving all of the world's problems) as I hiked.  I dang near came out of my skin when I heard a soft "coming up on your left" from a mountain biker behind me.  

I was so obviously so completely spooked by him that he stopped to make sure I was OK.  We chatted a minute while my heart rate settled down and I had to admit that his courtesy of warning me that he was approaching probably kept me from hurting myself by jumping off the steep side of the trail.  

He said that he and his mountain biking friends made it a point to warn backpackers that they were approaching from behind on the theory that the backpacks might be making it harder for the hiker to hear the bikes coming.  I told him that, IMHO, it was't my backpack blocking the sound so much as it was me sometimes getting zoned out as I hiked.

I enjoy trail work and have noticed that on many of the trail projects I have been on it is MUCH easier to get the mountain bikers out for a day of trail construction or maintenance than it has been to get hikers involved.  The various mountain biking clubs I have worked with have done a great job at getting grant money to develop VERY useful and well-stocked trailers slam full of trail tools, they take care of the tools, and they bring them when they report for work.  BTW, outside of the Backcountry Horsemen, I have pretty much given up on getting useful help from the hoss folks <f>.  Don't even ask about the responses I have gotten from the motorized crowd.

I like hiking multi-use trails because I like meeting the different folks I run into on them.  I always enjoy sharing experiences with other hikers and mountain bikers and have personally been the recipient of some truly significant trail magic from hoss and ATV folks.  I enjoy hiking and helping to maintain trails in our Wilderness Areas and this provides me more than enough hiker-solitude to scratch my elitist hiker itch.  I am willing to share the rest of the trails I hike as long as other users are willing to do their share to help take care of them.

IMHO, there is room for all users in the incredible trail systems we have developed in our truly extensive public lands (1/3 of the USA is owned by us!).  Some of our trails work best for multi-use, some for selected uses, and some for single use only - the trick lies in finding out which truly needs to be which.  My own experience leads me to believe that a huge % of the user-conflict and sustainability challenges can be solved by good land management coupled with good trail design and construction.

Private land owners generally have the legal (and some would argue the ethical) right to designate the way trails are used on their lands.  We hire land managers to take care of our public lands and have evolved elaborate means for making sure that all citizens have the ability to make our wishes known on issues like designating public trail use.  Our job is to find out how to make our wishes known and then do what we can to help keep our trails in the shape that we want them to be in.

I am a strong believer that any use should be sustainable over the long haul.  Period.  This means that the monkey is on all of our backs to find out how our own use actually impacts the trails (and the larger trail environment that includes the wildlife and other users), to eliminate or at least minimize those impacts we personally cause, and to go back and help fix more than our share of all the impacts that have accumulated over time.  

For me the icing on the cake is that trail work isn't just a chance to pay our civic rent or practice good outdoor citizenship…it gets you outdoors with a pretty good crowd and can be a lot of fun!

Happy holidays…don't forget that your REI dividend evaporates at the end of the year!

- Charlie

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