[Cdt-l] Mountain bikes on the CDT

Charlie Thorpe charliethorpe at att.net
Thu Dec 13 18:18:32 CST 2012

Hello All -

Uncle Tom (nice handle, BTW…I hope that you are a black guy with a great sense of humor!) said:

> I really hope that this mountain biking thread doesn't end up like it did on the PCT list  couple of months ago, with hikers demonizing the bikers. It was so nasty that I quit that list.  I'm a biker and a hiker.  Let's move on to something productive before it all slides downhill.  
> Uncle Tom 

I thought that JD's email had some excellent observations and my stuff, of course, was exemplary…which one of us is headed downhill <VBG>?

I agree that email makes it all too easy to vent without thinking or to be completely misunderstood.  OTOH, we are all big boys and girls here and we don't have to fall into that trap.  I prefer to do my own censoring with my delete button…and have found over the years that it works very well.

JD said:

>> When I tell mountain bikers that are on trails clearly marked not for bikes that they're not supposed to be there, not one has ever admitted knowing they were breaking the law.  They always say "I didn't know" as they accelerate away from me.

Yep, I have met some of them myself.  IMHO, this issue can be one of education about the rules of the road as much as anything else.  Some probably really didn't know and others are probably choosing not to know.  Finding ways to get the word to them at least gives them the choice between doing right and deliberately doing wrong.  I do feel it's worth the effort in the long run.

Some honestly feel that they aren't doing wrong.  These are the folks I enjoy listening to…every now and then they actually are right on a macro scale and are only doing the wrong thing because the restriction they are fighting is itself wrong at the micro level.  This issue is also one of education, but about the process of getting involved in the rule-making process itself.  It has been my observation that those who become IMBA activists often fall into this category…and they are learning to involve themselves in the rule making process VERY well.

Unfortunately, there is little we can do (short of really fast LEO's on mountain bikes, elephant traps, etc.) with the young adult male demographic who elect to pay little attention to anything they feel is getting in the way of the fun outdoor fad of the moment.  The good news is that they will likely become captivated by some other TV commercial and move on to other outdoor pursuits…perhaps something like extreme base jumping (flying squirrel suits) where impacts tend to be self correcting in the long run.

>> "I am a strong believer that any use should be sustainable over the long haul.  Period.  "  On the surface this sounds great.  Not to nitpick, but what does it mean?  How do we sustain?  Do we sustain with higher taxes, mandatory trail maintenance, user fees?

Truly excellent questions!  Land managers and volunteer trail types like me tend to think about this a lot.

I have elected to throw my lot in with the bunch who feel that education and sweat (which I will get to on down the page) are the only practical answers.  I personally don't look for ways to force sustainable use of our recreational resources as much as I use sustainability as a goal (and sanity check) for my own thinking.

I volunteered a fair amount of my time before I retired and a MUCH larger amount of my personal resources (time, $, spousal good will, garage space, etc.) ever since to two international educational programs which I believe specifically and directly help solve these kinds of issues.

Scouting is a kid-growing educational movement which works very well for many of the young folks who are part of exactly the same demographic that is causing much of the mountain biking impact problem.  Scouting is an easy choice…I have never met anybody in Scouting who espoused the deliberate aim of "doing bad" in the woods ("doing good" is what draws the vast majority of individuals to Scouting in the first place).  

The Scouting educational challenges relating to these issues tend to merely be those of identifying what modern "doing good" really is and finding practical ways to help everybody easily do it.  I don't feel that we have to spend a lot of time trying to teach Scouting folks to "be ethical"…it's already there and has been for over a century now.

The other educational movement I invest time with is Leave No Trace (LNT).  I am also becoming more and more interested in including Aldo Leopold's "land ethic" and the Tread Lightly! (TL!) motorized outdoor ethics messages in my efforts, but I still have a lot more to learn about both of them.

The LNT and TL! outdoor ethics messages double up and both directly cover mountain biking.  Never hurts to come at any challenge from two different directions <g>.

IMHO, the flip side of all this educational stuff is that we have to figure out how to make it easier (and even possible) to enjoy our trails in ways that really are sustainable over time.  This is where the modern trail design/construction/maintenance shoe drops…WAY too many of our trails were built (or grew in place) long before techniques were invented/discovered/lucked into which give us any chance at all to keep them sustainable.   

Interestingly, I credit IMBA and their Professional Trail Care Crews with gathering together much of these modern trail design/construction techniques and of pushing the Forest Service (and the Parkies) into evolving them even further along.  The Student Conservation Association, ATC, and AMC stuff ain't too shabby either.

Some of the hero trail construction heavies have become intrigued with the considerable challenges of finding practical ways to build sustainable multi-use trails that are pleasant for all to use and which are sustainable with hoss and motorized (dirt bike, ATV, etc.) use.  More power to them, I certainly haven't been able to figure it out.

>> Insofar as your "recreation ecologist" friend is concerned, I'd like to see his work so I can decide for myself, not for anyone else, if his conclusions are objective and what agenda he has.

The draft chapter from his book and the three other papers by other authors have been sent to you.  I will be very interested in hearing what you have to say about Dr. Marion's writing.  There are a number of very active recreation ecologists running loose nowadays - Jeff just happens to be the one I know personally <g>.

>>  When I hike on a trail and see tire tracks creating a rut, when I see curves in the trail with the uphill side of the trail eroded due to the speed mountain bikers enjoy going downhill, when I see depressions in the trail that become huge mud holes due to the impact of mountain bikes, I have to question if there is anything resembling the concept of LNT in the mountain biking crowd.

IMHO, you are describing land management and trail design problems, not mountain biker problems (unless the trails involved are actually closed to mountain biking).  In the best of all worlds a trail should be constructed in a way that all allowed uses can be done in ways that are both enjoyable and sustainable. 

I have had the pleasure of being involved in a number of trail projects which involved fixing problem areas on existing multi-use trails.  I can count on one hand the number of fixes which actually worked well over the long haul and which did NOT involve relocating that trail segment to a location where modern trail techniques could be used.

I am not a biker, but I have been involved in trail redesigns aimed at fixing exactly the sort of problems you describe (and they almost always came out fine, if I do say so myself <g>).  We usually ended up making changes to the overall trail layout as well as fixing specific trail locations where needed.  

For instance, we would change the trail from "open and flowing" to "tight and technical" if it wasn't possible to rebuild the trail to be sustainable at the speeds the bikers had been using on it.  It is MUCH easier to design a trail from scratch to keep speeds low while still giving a good ride (leave larger trees closer to the trail, insert relatively tight turns often, include frequent grade changes, remove small understory further out to allow good sight lines while keeping the tree canopy intact, etc.).

The enjoyable speed of a trail can be changed after the fact if needed.  Scouting groups (teenage boys and girls) are great at moving big logs and iceberging monster rocks to "technical up" a stretch of mountain biking trail <VBG>.  Us snail-paced hikers usually don't even notice these technical trail elements, but I guarantee that the mountain bikers do.

The goal is to figure out what it takes for ALL allowed users to enjoy the trail and build it that way.  It ain't rocket science…and it IS fun!

>>  In conjunction with your recreation ecologist's papers, I'd like to see what the Forest Service has to say about the ecological impact of mountain bikes with the understanding that the activity is increasing in popularity.

Look at the bibliography in the book chapter I emailed you and see what you think.  The Forest Service (along with the BLM and NPS) sits on the Leave No Trace Educational Review Committee and is involved in the peer review process for everything the LNT Center publishes.  I am not aware that they are at odds with any of the LNT mountain biking message.

Tread Lightly! also has a mountain biking message, but I haven't gotten far enough along with them to understand how they do their peer reviews.  The federal land managing agencies have all signed MOU's with TL!, so it would seem that they must be comfortably in bed together.

Nice discussion!

- Charlie
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