The Coastal Post - May 2000

Corporate America Investing In Marin Trails

By Harriet Wyndfahl

Adventure travel is big business these days. Whether your destination is Australia, British Columbia, Arizona or the Amazon, travel agencies can arrange vacations to suit the sporting experience of your life. Guided and catered white water rafting, helicopter skiing, and extreme mountain biking excursions await the prosperous adrenaline-set. Marin County is just a few hours away from skiing and rafting but residents don't have to leave home at all to get their kicks from mountain biking.

As the "birthplace" of the sport, Marin County is a natural target for the mountain bike industry. Local and national advocacy groups actively lobby government for more access to trails and increased funding. Many mountain bikers want equal access to all trails which are open to the public. Some critics, however, question the legitimacy of advocacy groups having non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service while receiving substantial grants from mountain bike racing sponsors to construct race-for-profit facilities. Two advocacy groups active in Marin are the Bicycle Trails Council of Marin and the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

The automobile and mountain bike industries have formed lucrative alliances in advertising and off-road racing sponsorships. Just about every 4-wheel drive ad these days features mountain bikes sailing through the air or splashing through mud. Some manufacturers offer a free mountain bike and rack with the purchase of a car or sports utility vehicle (SUV). Tour of the Rockies Mountain Bike Race sponsor, Lincoln Motors, promised their event to be "full of adventure and fitting well with Navigator, an SUV that is designed to provide its passengers the most luxurious way to travel-anywhere."

Sponsors of mountain bike racing teams competing at the recent Napa World Cup included: Volvo/Cannondale, Saab/Gary Fisher, Volkswagen/Trek, Toyota/Schwinn, and Subaru/Specialized. Subaru was also building mountain bike trails in Marin last month with the Bicycle Trails Council. This trail building, located at a boy scout camp near the city of Fairfax, has ignited controversy among some locals who claim that the work is being done without permits. The builders say that no permits are necessary.

Subaru of America, Inc. sponsors trail building crews in 49 states and 14 other countries. The crews travel in Subaru Outbacks, and each receives a salary, health insurance, and a travel allowance. In addition to providing trail building instruction and physical labor, crews are expected to make public appearances and promote trail access before government officials.

There is no question about the popularity of mountain biking. Some advocates lament that the sport has "sold out" to big corporations. Long gone are the simpler days when locals could ride their bikes into the hills without being challenged or ticketed, and without other trail users complaining. With multi-national corporations following the scent of profits to the top of Mt. Tamalpais and down the other side, it looks like the "good old days" are gone forever. Can the "Magic Mountain of the North" be far away?

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